Netherlands expected to loosen COVID measures as Germany holds firm

The Dutch government is expected to loosen some of the toughest COVID-19 restrictions in Europe on Tuesday.

For more than a month, bars, restaurants, and cultural venues have been closed, while strict quarantine rules have shut a quarter of primary school classes in the Netherlands.

Pressure from local politicians is pushing Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government to ease the restrictions, especially after mayors from 30 municipalities petitioned the government last week.

“I can’t explain why here in Breda IKEA is open but the theatre, where people can safely watch a performance, is closed,” said Breda’s mayor Paul Depla, adding “at the moment, the society sees local government in the form of police officers and community service officers, as fines and batons. But that same society, which is under so much pressure, expects us to defend their interests and for us to show that we stand together in these difficult times.”

No easing of coronavirus measures in Germany

In neighbouring Germany, a meeting between federal leaders and chancellor Olaf Scholz concluded that high infection rates left no room to relax the current tight restrictions on private gatherings and large meetings.

“It is time to stay the course,” German chancellor Olaf Scholz said in Berlin on Monday, for whom it became apparent that the access restrictions that have been in place for months should remain in place in the workplaces, on buses, trains, restaurants, and shops.

Scholz was echoed by the State Premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hendrik Wuest, who added that “experts of the federal government are considering an overload of the health system.”

“The council of experts has given a clear warning: the infection trend requires the maintenance of and the strict adhesion to the current measures,” Wuest went on.

Croatian opposition petitions for COVID-19 inquiry

Meanwhile, in Croatia, opposition lawmakers handed in signatures for two petitions to the speaker of Croatia’s parliament in Zagreb on Monday, in the hope they will force a national referendum on the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The group leading the initiative, the conservative populist party “Most” (“The Bridge”), seeks to challenge the authority of the coronavirus task force and wants a referendum that would pave the way for transferring any virus-related decision-making powers to parliament.

“Most”, which has eight MPs in the 151-seat parliament, also wants the people to be able to decide on whether or not to abolish the mandatory COVID-19 passes currently required for employees and customers at some public services, such as post offices and hospitals.

Croatia, which has high levels of vaccine-hesitancy in Europe as well as some of the laxest coronavirus restrictions, introduced mandatory COVID-19 certificates for all employees of public and state services in November.

The passes are available to anyone who has been vaccinated, anyone who has recovered from the virus, or anyone who has recently tested negative.

The move was met with large protests by pandemic-fatigued Croatians and was criticised by several right-wing opposition parties, who then launched initiatives to restrict the government’s decision-making powers, arguing that the body handling the pandemic is unconstitutional and that mandating any coronavirus passes is illegal.

If the referendum is given the go-ahead, it could take place in about two months.

Only 55% of the population is inoculated against COVID-19 in Croatia.

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