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Events sector displeased by leaked Covid relaxations; Outbreak Team meeting today

Events sector displeased by leaked Covid relaxations; Outbreak Team meeting today

The Outbreak Management Team, which advises the Cabinet on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, will meet again on Friday. The members will likely talk about the possibility of relaxing coronavirus restrictions. Some of the Cabinet’s plans leaked on Thursday, prompting pleased reactions from the catering and cultural sectors but not from the events sector.

Sources told Dutch media that the Cabinet is considering extending closing times from 10:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. and scrapping social distancing in the catering industry as long as guests have a fixed seat. The advice to work from home will be removed. People may be allowed to receive an unlimited number of guests at home. And festivals and major events may be allowed again if everyone is tested beforehand and attendees have fixed seats at events larger than 500 people.

The Cabinet will only make a formal decision about the relaxations on Tuesday, followed by a press conference by Health Minister Ernst Kuipers.

Danny Damman, director of the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam, is “shocked” by the fixed seats for events with 500 meters condition. The concert hall in Amsterdam can accommodate about 17,000 people. If everyone has to be seated, a lot fewer people can fit in the room.

“Then I fear that some renters will think: rather not, never mind,” said Damman. “If this is the decision, I’m afraid some renters will think: that doesn’t fit the character of the event.” It may be “a bottleneck” to opening, he thinks. “If you go to a cabaret show, you can let people sit. The theaters are fantastically helped with this. But the large halls with standing events are not.”

Damman and Jolanda Jansen, general manager of Rotterdam Ahoy and spokesperson for the Alliance of Event Builders, wonder about the logic behind this decision. “Why are you allowed to stand up to 500 people, but not above that?” asked Jansen. Berend Schans of the Dutch Poppodia and Festivals Association agrees. “That means that you can dance in the Ekko in Utrecht, but not in Paradiso in Amsterdam. That’s wrong.”

The cinema and theater sector is “thrilled” with the planned relaxation. Especially the scrapping of social distancing and extended opening times. “If these leaked relaxations are correct, I will be very happy,” said Boris van der Ham, chairman of the Dutch Association of Cinemas and Film Theaters and the Dutch Association of Free Theater Producers. Van der Ham emphasized that many of the requirements, like fixed seats, are already met in the cinema and theater sector. They can also easily comply with the closing time: theater performances and cinema films always end at 1:00 a.m.

Van der Ham hopes that the Cabinet will help the theater sector get started. “You don’t just open a theater as you do at a cinema. The cast has to get back in shape, rehearse. That takes time and money.” That is why Van der Ham hopes that the Cabinet will come up with some form of financial support. “You can’t break even in this sector right away because the halls will probably not be full right away.”

The 1:00 a.m. closing time will be good for regular restaurants. But “this means nothing for the night catering industry,” said Rober Willemsen of hospitality association KHN. “The government is now pretending to do something for them, but that is not the case.”

The longer opening hours were discussed in talks with the Ministries last week, said Willemsen. The government was also already determined to stick to the plan to open nightclubs and discotheques with mandatory pre-testing, he said. But the KHN sees nothing in that. “The target group of the night catering industry has not been boosted and will not be tested. Then they go to illegal parties, and you have no control over that at all.”

Teenagers and people in their 20s are also not at risk of severe symptoms if they do get the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, Willemsen emphasized. The KHN, therefore, wants to open the nightclubs and discos with a coronavirus access pass. “But if the restrictions disappear, that obligation must also be removed quickly.”