Dutch opposition lawmakers back new coronavirus curfew law

By MIKE CORDER Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Key Dutch opposition parties expressed support Thursday for hastily drawn-up legislation underpinning the country’s coronavirus curfew after a judge ordered the measure scrapped earlier this week.

The lower house of parliament is expected to approve the legislation in a vote later Thursday. That will send the bill to the senate on Friday — the same day that government lawyers go to court to appeal the order banning the 9 p.m.-to-4:30 a.m. curfew.

Maarten Hijink of the opposition Socialist Party gave the legislation his backing, but told the government: “Don’t take the support as an appreciation of the way this Cabinet made such an unbelievable mess of the judicial underpinning of the curfew.”

Populist Geert Wilders was among opposition lawmakers who do not support the legislation introduced by Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government.

“What an embarrassment for Prime Minister Rutte, and what a hammer blow for the credibility of the corona policies of his Cabinet in general and the curfew in particular,” said Wilders, who has repeatedly described the measure as disproportionate. He demanded that fines meted out for breaches of the curfew be canceled or repaid.

The curfew, which sparked rioting last month but is very broadly supported and followed, remains in force pending the outcome of the government’s appeal.

A judge in The Hague banned the curfew, saying the law the government used when it introduced the measure last month can only be wielded in pressing emergencies such as a massive dike breach.

The government argues that the curfew became an urgent necessity because of the swift rise of new, more transmissible variants of the virus, particularly the one first discovered in Britain which has already gained ground in the Netherlands.

Rutte told lawmakers Thursday: “Of course, we regret the situation because it creates a lack of clarity. That’s why the Cabinet has tried to create clarity as quickly as possible via … the urgent appeal against the court decision and also the legislation we’re talking about.”

The Netherlands has been in a tough lockdown since mid-December, with all nonessential stores closed, along with bars, restaurants and other public venues. Elementary schools reopened this month, but all other schools and universities remain shut.

Infections have been slowly declining, with the 7-day rolling average of daily new cases decreasing over the past two weeks from 23.38 new cases per 100,000 people to 21.28 on Feb. 17. The country has more than 15,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths.

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