As in every country, almost every news story in The Netherlands is connected to the Corona virus. This week reports are suggesting a second peak in September, and an announcement was made that starting next week anyone testing positive will be required by law to quarantine. The UK are requiring arrivals from the Netherlands to be quarantined, whilst the Dutch have added Madrid, Ibiza and Paris to their ‘don’t go’ list.
But how is the situation on the ground for ordinary residents this August in Amsterdam?
Since 1st June, Amsterdam-residents with mild symptoms of coronavirus can get tested free of charge at the GGD Amsterdam (Public Health Service of Amsterdam). If the test shows positive for COVID-19, someone from the GGD will call you for contact tracing. This means working out where you may have contracted the infection (the source). The GGD also looks at who you have been in contact with, and who you may have infected. The purpose is to prevent the virus from spreading further. You and your contacts will be given specific instructions on what to do, but in any case you and anyone else in your household must stay at home for 14 days. There is a testing centre at Schiphol between arrival halls 3 and 4. The testing centre is clearly signposted and can be found on the map in the Schiphol app.
The Dutch health authorities have reported an increase in new cases, with over 4,000 new Covid-19 patients in one week, meaning the positive test rate hits 3.5%.
In practice ordinary people are actually now being tested, and not just those in the high-risk group. Many people do now know someone who has tested positive even if they and most other people are coming back with a negative result. Getting a test now seems much easier, but also more relevant when you hear of people you know who went for a test because of the Corona tracing.
Wearing masks or not?
Masks have been compulsory on public transport since 1st July, and for anyone aged 13 or above in public places in specific streets from 5th August until at least the end of the month.
In practice especially on the metro, there are often people (usually teenagers) not wearing a mask. People stand at the platform and only put the mask on as they get onto the metro, tram or train. The transport police stand next to the ferries to ensure masks are worn. In the compulsory-masked area, many people are walking round without a mask. Supposedly most of these are tourists and not locals. It is intended that the authorities fine people €90 for being in these streets without a mask. There are already fines in place on public transport.
Health workers wear medical masks and gloves of course. If you visit a doctor, dentist or optician, you may also be required to wear one as a patient. Sometimes they provide this to ensure that your mask meets the required standards for that establishment.
People are not always disposing of their used masks in an appropriate manner. Lots of single-use masks get dumped on the street.
Hand-sanitizer, Soap and Washing your hands
Almost every place you enter now offers you the chance to wash your hands, either with soap and water or hand-sanitizer. There are tales of people having made millions by manufacturing sanitization stands at the start of the pandemic.
Keeping a 1.5 metre distance
1.5 metres is the official recommended distance in The Netherlands, with phrases such as the ‘een anderhalve meter-economie’ (1.5 metre economy) being widely used in the media and online. Lines have been painted on streets including at markets or as you wait for a ferry, as well as the floors of supermarkets etc. There are large signs in parks, and smaller ones in the shops.
Most people are keeping some distance although not as much as during the initial weeks of lockdown. Previously it was common to greet friends and acquaintances with 3 kisses, now the most common greeting is to tap elbows. People are advised by the government to sneeze and cough into their elbows.
It was in the international news back in May that the Dutch government were supposedly advising single people to find a sex buddy for the duration of Corona. Dating apps including Tinder, OK Cupid and Happn are still being used but of course there are no statistics on how many people are going on dates or entering into either casual or long-term relationships. Dutch brothels reopened on 1st July but with the rule ‘no kissing’.
Store opening times have very much gone back to the normal pre-Corona times. Shops restrict numbers usually by making it compulsory to take either a trolley or basket, and when there are none left newly arrived customers have to wait before they can enter the shop. There are no more long queues outside to enter, and shelves are fully stocked. Many shops have separate doors or aisles for entering and exiting the store, which are clearly marked.
Many people are choosing to avoid contact with other people in shops by purchasing groceries online. This can either be from a specific grocery store, or through companies like GreenSwapp who offer customers the opportunity to buy from both local markets and a range of different stores. All the delivery companies offer contactless delivery.
Gyms, Parks and Recreation facilities
Parks stayed open in Amsterdam during the initial lockdown period, although playgrounds and public equipment were largely closed off. All of this is now available again and gyms reopened in July. The work out experience has changed however. Many gyms moved some equipment outside, and still offer outdoor classes including spinning and yoga despite the indoor part being open.
Gym memberships have also changed. Almost everywhere including Onefit and ClassPass now offers online classes as well as attending in person at a gym. All trainings now have to be booked in advance, with much smaller classes in order for everyone to keep their distance. The yoga and pilates schools encourage guests to bring at least their own mat or towel, less props are available and there is more time between lessons to ensure everything gets properly cleaned. Popular classes are fully booked very soon after going online.
Bars, Restaurants and Night- Life
Bars and restaurants have been open since June, but are required to ensure the appropriate social distancing measures. Parties and gatherings are still allowed, so long as everyone follows the rules.
According to rules reactivated this month, all bars and restaurants should take bookings by reservation only. They should ask guests to fill out contact details for at least one member of their party so that visitors can be contacted in thr event of one of their guests reporting that they tested Covid-positive. In practice this does not always happen and walk-ins are possible. Smaller and struggling establishments especially are reluctant to turn guests away. Some venues get round the rule by asking that you make a reservation online when you physically walk in. Others have introduced ordering drinks online through a table-specific QR- code to reduce contact between staff and customers.
During the weekend, there is a ban on selling alcohol from supermarkets and liquor stores in the Red Light District and the rest of the compulsory face- mask area. The ban applies from Thursdays 16.00 until Sundays after midnight. This lasts until 1 September. Alcohol can still be bought in the area in cafés and restaurants. Street musicians are also banned from performing in these streets until 1 October.
Cultural locations: Theatres, cinemas, museums etc
Most of these are open but with restrictions in regarding the number of visitors. This makes it pleasant for guests but smaller venues especially are struggling. Already the independent Museum of Bags and Purses has announced that partly as a result of Corona they are permanently closed. Other places offer online as well as physical exhibitions, including the Amsterdam Museum’s Corona in de Stad.
Employment and Work
It has always been fairly common for employees in The Netherlands to have the option of working partly from home. This then became the norm during lockdown when the government closed offices and instructed people to work from home whenever possible. Many of these employees are now slowly starting to return to their physical offices. In order to ensure social distancing often this is often only for 1-2 days per week with the rest of the time spent working from home.
Economists are reporting a massive shrinking of the Dutch economy as a result of Covid and lockdown. Amsterdam-based Booking.com recently announced huge job cuts, although it is unclear how many of these will be made up of their Netherlands-based employees.
Schools in the Amsterdam region are reopening after the summer holidays on 16th August 2020. There are some concerns about the impact of good ventilation and air conditioning systems on the spread of COVID, especially in schools which may not meet the proper requirements. The government is not in favour of making face masks compulsory in schools.
Hairdressers and beauty salons
These are open as normal but can only be visited by appointment.