News

Risk vs reward (Or: Press conference from 23 February)

There was another press conference this evening to discuss the coronavirus measures. The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said that we are now at a phase where we are able to take more risks, although that statement should be taken with a grain of salt. The number of infections in Netherlands isn’t getting better, but people are starting to get more and more restless. Especially as the weather gets better. Here are some updates regarding the corona measures:

  • Middle schools will open for at least one day per week (with more days allowed, at the school’s discretion), from 2 March
  • “Contact professions” (hair dressers, beauticians, massagers, etc.) will re-open from 3 March
  • Along with the already present “click and collect” option at stores, shops will be able to offer shopping by appointment from 3 March. There can be a maximum of two customers per floor, with a minimum time slot of 10 minutes, for a total of 12 customers per hour per floor. Of course, that is less than ideal for some of the larger stores. Rutte did say they were going to enter into conversations with larger stores about additional financial support, but he did not go into details.
  • Young adults up to the age of 27 will be allowed to participate in team sports (previously this was capped at 18 years old), although there was no mention of gyms re-opening yet.

There will be another press conference on Monday, March 8 to discuss the curfew and other coronavirus measures. The curfew needs to be discussed because the following week general elections will be held, and voting locations stay open until 21:00. That clashes with the start of the nightly curfew.

So: risk versus reward. It is quite possible the number of infections will start going back up again, and in that case some of these measures would need to be repealed. So as usual it is sort of “wait and see” over here.

Curfew extended, other restrictions relaxed; “Your behavior matters” from nltimes.nl

In more positive news, the weather is still great. Marco and I took a walk earlier to soak in some sun!

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Start of another week (Or: Happy Monday, everyone)

Tomorrow there will be a press conference to go over the current status of the corona measures, as usually happens one week before their possible end date. There are a lot of rumors of course – curfew extended for three weeks, hairdressers allowed to open, middle schools allowed to go to school one or two times a week, etc. But it is always best to wait and see what is officially said tomorrow evening rather than to speculate already. Technically the corona situation is not good enough to allow hairdressers to open again, but I think the decision was influenced by the fact that hairdressers are reopening in both Belgium and parts of Germany. Tomorrow evening should be interesting.

In other news:

Tenant ordered to vacate apartment for howling like a wolf from nltimes.nl. The noise complaints started in October 2019 and were due to a “vocal tic” and psychological disorder. Some of his neighbors sold their apartments and moved out over the last few years, not wanting to wait.

Faces of Margraten project finds 8,000th photo of a WWII soldier from dutchnews.nl. There are 10,000 US soldiers buried or named on an honor role at Margraten, a village in east Netherlands. So far they have been able to find photographs for 8,000 of them.

Zon overdag nauwelijks zichtbaar door Saharastof from nos.nl in Dutch. Loosely translated: The sun was barely visible during the day due to sand from the Sahara desert. There are a few cool photos of the sun today. Here is a tweet with a satellite image (the sand is circled):

The joke at the top of the tweet: “Everyone goes to the car wash [to get the snow and salt off their cars]… Nature says: Hold my beer!”

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Walking in the sun (Or: Spring has arrived)

I briefly paid a visit to the grocery store this morning, enjoying the moments of sun on my face. How nice it is to feel the sun again! We also opened the bedroom window to get a bit of fresh air in the apartment.

We are not there yet, but: Events to take place again with rapid testing and a CoronaCheck app from nltimes.nl. The government wants to start experimenting with small-scale events to see how it goes. Tomorrow there will be a football game with 1,500 fans separated into six “bubbles” with different rules (article from rtlnieuws.nl in Dutch). For example, bubble #1 has the following rules: wear a face mask unless sitting, restaurants and cafés are available at all times, seat placement is determined in advance but you can sit next to other participants, etc.

One of the key requirements for starting events again in the summer is that testing must be scaled up to at least 400k a day, with a test certificate available for checking via a CoronaCheck app. Of course, keep in mind the Netherlands is also holding general elections next month so it looks good if they announce initiatives like this.

In other, random news: if you want to see map of all the trees in The Hague, check out the “Haagse Bomen app” at ddh.maps.arcgis.com. Larger green circles denote older trees, whereas purple and orange circles denote “monumental” trees, with orange ones owned by the city and purple ones owned by a private citizen. Most of the monumental trees are in the city centre.

Above is a 2013 photo of the tree next to Grote Kerk (Big Church) in The Hague. According to the app website it is 120 years old!

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Spring arrives (But: Just for a few days)

While my winter jacket was perfectly acceptable this morning, it was less acceptable in the afternoon when I went out for a longer walk. It is still jacket weather, of course. But you can feel Spring inching in, however briefly. Which makes sense if we really do hit 16-17C or 60-62F this weekend.

Quick note on the curfew: Dutch curfew to remain in effect for at least a week while court considers verdict from nltimes.nl. it is a stark contrast with how crazy Tuesday was – no more curfew, maybe we have one still, we do indeed. And now they need a week, which is a bit ironic since the law is currently set to expire on 3 March. I suspect they will extend it again, though. There will also be a planned press conference next Tuesday, but considering the 7-day average of infections has started to go up again I don’t see much room for lifting measures.

Random news: ING, the last Dutch bank to cash cheques no longer offers the service from dutchnews.nl. Huh. I’m going to admit I did not even know that was a possibility, but it just means you can’t cash checks. You can still deposit them. I’m a big fan of payment methods in this country. The first is pinning with a debit card. There is no signature, and if the purchase is under €50 you only need to enter your pin every once in a while. It used to be €25 but the limit was raised to promote contactless payments in corona times. When using the card you just put it near the side of the machine and wait for it to beep that it was successful. The beep is slightly different if you then need to enter your pin, but the benefit is the card never leaves your hands.

The other payment method is iDEAL (English Wikipedia) which allows you to buy things online using direct online transfers from your bank account. In other words, the payment request happens between the company you are buying from and your bank, so that your bank details are kept secure. Almost every Dutch website uses it. It was a huge shock when we tried to order online for pickup at Five Guys a few weeks back, as they didn’t offer iDEAL as a payment option. How old school! Needless to say we just ordered when we got there instead.

And in some cute news, a Flemish photographer spotted a yellow penguin on an island in the south Atlantic:

The yellow color was likely from Leucism (English Wikipedia), or a partial loss of pigmentation.

Happy Friday, everyone. Enjoy your weekend!

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Dutch courts strike down the curfew (But: Maybe it will still be in effect?)

It has been a bit of a confusing day, especially due to speaking Dutch as a second language. A few times I have had to stop and ask Marco what this or that meant, as my knowledge of judicial terms (even everyday judicial terms) isn’t that great.

The Dutch courts unexpectedly struck down the Dutch curfew law which said that everyone must be inside between 21:00 and 04:30, unless you have a valid reason. I say unexpectedly because I didn’t even know there was a court case going on. The Dutch anti-lockdown group Viruswaarheid (Loosely translated: Virus Truth) went to the courts to strike down the curfew. The curfew had been in place since 23 January and was extended on 8 February until the early morning of 3 March. And then suddenly it was gone – or so we thought. I can’t say that I’ve been pretty disrupted by it, beyond Roger coming over earlier in the weekend. (Note: Roger is pretty much our only contact for some months, with a few rare exceptions.) Oh, and also that Marco has to get up early to bring the garbage down. The Hague decided that you can only put your garbage out between 04:30 and 07:45, rather than late in the evening the night before. Ick.

Curfew must be scrapped immediately, court rules from nltimes.nl. The court didn’t say that the curfew itself was wrong, rather that the government did not follow proper procedure and bring it before the Tweede Kamer (House of Representatives) and the Eerste Kamer (Senate) before bringing it into law. The government instead used an “acute emergency” ruling to bring it to pass. The court disagreed that it was indeed an acute emergency.

Viruswaarheid says there will be a party in the streets tonight; the leader invites everyone to go outside and celebrate after 21:00 (article in Dutch, from nos.nl). That does not sound like a good plan…

The Dutch government said wait a minute – we want to appeal that, and we want to keep the curfew active while we’re appealing. Government appeals against curfew ruling, also from nltimes.nl.

The government appeals, and the sitting is scheduled for 16:00. During the hearing, the leader of Viruswaarheid accuses the courts of not being impartial, and he says he wants a different court to hear the case. A special court will look at his request, saying they need until 18:30 to decide, give or take. It’s 19:00 now… At 19:08 the court said that they are dismissing his request for a new court.

So like I said: a confusing day. At the moment, the curfew has been struck down, until the court says otherwise. For now. We will see.

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Possible curfew extension (Or: An icy, wintry day)

The Dutch cabinet is consider extending the curfew to 2 March. The curfew runs from 21:00 to 04:30 every night. See also: Outgoing Dutch Cabinet says it will seek curfew extension through March 2 from nltimes.nl. That would be an extension of 3 weeks and bring the measure into line with other measures that are currently in place until (at least) 2 March.

I forgot to post this yesterday but here are some pictures from regio15.nl (in Dutch) of what The Hague looked like under a thin layer of fresh snow on late Saturday into early Sunday morning. We got some more after that, of course.

Skating on the canals? Amsterdam take steps to accelerate ice formation from nltimes.nl. Amsterdam and other Dutch cities have introduced a temporary ban on boating within canals to help stimulate ice growth so that the chances of skating on natural ice are higher.

Van Ark [the minister of Sports] to consider allowing ‘corona safe’ competitions on natural ice from dutchnews.nl. The Dutch government is in a very difficult position at the moment. Dutchies are very fanatic about being able to hold an Elfstedentocht (11 city skating competition, English Wikipedia) at the first possibility of natural ice being thick enough. An Elfstedentocht had already been ruled out late last year due to corona, but now that we are in a situation where we will have at least a week of ice, everyone is thinking about it again. A majority of the Dutch cabinet is for it (article from ad.nl in Dutch), with limited or no public. However it does seem like a bit of a double standard when other things are being cancelled. On the other hand, the last Elfstedentocht was in 1997 due to climate change, so…

And finally, a bit of crazy news: Politie vindt onderkoelde man die in vrieskou van Gouda naar Weesp liep from omroepeest.nl in Dutch. In summary, the trains were not running this weekend so a man decided to walk from Gouda to Weesp (about 54 km or 33 miles) in the evening during the snowstorm. He actually almost made it to Weesp before he called his mom and said he was in trouble. The connection was then lost, so his mom called the police. They finally found him using a police helicopter. He was found not far outside of Weesp, laying on a bike path, suffering from hypothermia of course. But the story ends well: after some care he was reunited with his family. Sounds like he wasn’t fined for breaking curfew, either….

(The Hague has a herd of Scottish Highland cows in Westduinpark, or West Dune Park.)

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Code red (Or: Brrr, cold and windy!)

Later this evening and tomorrow the Netherlands will be under a “code red” warning for Storm Darcy. Apparently the last time the entire country was under code red was February 2012, before I arrived in the Netherlands.

Dutch issue Code Red weather alert for snowdrifts, blizzard conditions from nltimes.nl. The expected snowfall itself varies anywhere from 2 to 6 inches; it really depends on who you are listening to. The wind is the real problem for traffic, since it will cause snow drifts and limited visibility. Some days it will feel like -15c to -18c (closer to 0F) next week, which is rare in this country. Some news sites are calling this a “once in ten years” event.

And of course, what you would expect to see in this situation…

Empty shelves, of course. That’s the bread area by an Albert Heijn (grocery store).

Dutch health services announce closure of all test and vaccination sites due to weather alert from nltimes.nl. Makes sense. Even the Dutch government is getting in on the action, posting a page about having “fun in the snow” in a responsible, corona proof way: Schaatsen, schaatsbanen, sneeuw en winterweer from rijksoverheid.nl in Dutch. Mainly rules about skating, snow ball fights, etc. Oh, and don’t forget to be inside by 21:00 for the curfew…

In other news: Legendary rock band Golden Earring stops after 60 years on ALS diagnosis from nltimes.nl. Golden Earring (English Wikipedia) is a Dutch rock band from The Hague, internationally known for their hit “Radar Love”, among others. Here is a YouTube link of Radar Love.

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Updates (Or: 2 February press conference)

There was another press conference this evening to discuss the current coronavirus measures. Some changes were announced, while other possible changes like the curfew need to be discussed.

  • The nightly curfew will be re-examined this weekend to see if it should be extended past 9 February. At the moment there is not enough evidence to say if it is helping or not because the measure has been in effect for less than two weeks.
  • Primary schools will re-open for in-person education from 8 February. However if one student tests positive the entire class, including the teacher, need to go into quarantine and then get tested after 5 days.
  • Primary school teachers will be eligible for rapid testing
  • Secondary schools are closed until at least 1 March, with online education (still) the norm
  • Stores will be allowed to open click-and-collect points from 10 February
    • Click-and-click points must be outside
    • You must order online or by telephone, not in person
    • There must be four hours between ordering and picking up
    • You must have a designated time slot for when you can pick up the item
  • The “urgent advice” to only have one visitor per day is still in effect

Rutte: Secondary schools could open in March; Curfew under evaluation from nltimes.nl

Basisscholen open en afhalen in winkels, dit zijn de maatregelen voor komende tijd from nos.nl in Dutch (Primary schools open and pickup in stores, these are the corona measures for the coming days)

Persconferentie coronavirus 2 februari: lockdown duurt langer from rijksoverheid.nl (Recap of the press conference in “simple Dutch”, always good for expats)

General link: Coronavirus dashboard (in English) from rijksoverheid.nl

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At the crossroads (Or: Less rules? More rules?)

After the Dutch government reported that primary schools would re-open from 8 February, there are now rumors that shops will be able to open for pickup (only) from 10 February (article from nltimes.nl in English). At the same time the “British variant” now counts for half of all infections in the Netherlands as opposed to one-third of the infections last week (article from nos.nl in Dutch).

But, the number of corona cases is dropping in the Netherlands (graph from rivm.nl):

The red line is the 7 day average of the cases. Today we had 3,280 cases, the lowest count since 1 October. However, we are coming out of the weekend and hospital intakes haven’t been falling that fast in comparison.

There is also an article on nos.nl in Dutch: Oproep uit IC-hoek: ‘Versoepel aantal maatregelen, accepteer meer overlijdens’, or Call from [some] workers in the ICU: ‘Relax some measures, accept more deaths’. It’s an interesting take on a very, very sensitive topic – how much damage to society do you accept in exchange for keeping people alive? I am still on the side of ‘keep the measures’, but I do think that care of coronavirus patients cannot always take precedence over other patients (for example cancer patients who might themselves die while waiting for care). But the article is also talking about the social, emotional and financial cost of a continued lockdown.

Heck, I don’t live alone so I always have someone to talk to. I don’t have children who I need to help with homework or entertain on a regular basis. But even I go stir crazy sometimes and I have noticed work has gotten under my skin more often in the last month. I’ve mentioned a few times that what I miss the most is spending a few hours at a café in the weekend just playing around on my computer or tablet while watching the world go by. I want to get back to that, at some point.

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Coffee time (Or: Waiting outside Lebkov)

Marco and I went for a walk this afternoon, ending at Lebkov for a cup of coffee (medium Americano for me, large cappuccino with a shot of hazelnut for Marco). I usually take a large cappuccino as well but since cafés are now only open for takeaway I noticed that the foam is all but gone by the time we get home. That does tend to affect the taste a bit. Therefore, medium Americano it is!

View of the Turfmarkt while waiting for Marco to order inside

It was fairly cold out today (under the freezing point) but luckily I found a bit of protection hiding behind flowers sold at the shop next door. The Turfmarkt is known as a wind tunnel so this is always something to keep in mind.

Primary schools, daycare will reopen on February 8, minister confirms from dutchnews.nl. The Dutch government has always said that the re-opening of primary schools was their primary objective. There will be a press conference next Tuesday to see if any other measures could be lifted on 9 February. The next on the list to be lifted might be the curfew from 21:00 to 04:30. I think in an ideal world the government wants to keep the curfew in place, but that also risks more rioting and general unrest so it is hard to tell what they will do. My bet is that it will still in place a bit longer, but who knows?

Seven-day average of Covid-19 infections down to 4,286, the lowest since the beginning of the second wave [the beginning of October] from nltimes.nl. There were 3,714 cases today, however Sundays tend to be lower regardless.

Getting a virtual haircut: It’s a thing from nltimes.nl. A hairdresser in Limburg (southeast Netherlands) came up with an innovative way to keep his business afloat: you order a package of supplies and find a relative who wants to help cut your hair. The hairdresser and client then have a virtual hair cutting session where the hairdresser shows your relative step by step how to cut your hair using a “doll head” traditionally used to train new hairdressers.

Police in Leiden prevent riots by giving out free coffee, also from nltimes.nl. Over the last few weeks protests and riots have been announced online by inviting people to come to a certain location to “drink coffee” together. The police heard that some people wanted to “drink coffee” in certain areas of Leiden. Officers went to the areas with jugs of coffee and tea to help dispel the situation and show that they were there to talk with residents. Their plan seems to have worked – no unrest was reported in the city and only one person was arrested and taken to the police station. Bet he felt a bit embarrassed, being the only one to get arrested…

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