AMSTERDAM, Feb 19 (Reuters) – A night-time curfew in the Netherlands intended to slow the spread of coronavirus will remain in place for a least a week, after a high court decided on Friday it would rule on the measure’s legality only on Feb. 26.
The decision gives some breathing room to Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government, which has argued the curfew is vital to slow a third wave of coronavirus cases.
Protesters and political opponents say the curfew, the first seen in the Netherlands since World War Two, is a unnecessary restriction on freedoms.
The dispute has raged ahead of elections next month. Opinion polls show opposition to lockdown measures increasing, although Rutte and his conservative VVD Party are favoured to win at the March 15-17 elections.
On Tuesday a lower court agreed with anti-lockdown group “Virus Waarheid” or “Virus Truth” that the 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. curfew, which triggered street protests when it was brought in last month, lacked legal justification and ordered it scrapped.
Rutte’s government won a temporary stay of that decision, which the Hague Appeals Court extended at Friday’s hearing until it rules on Feb. 26.
In a separate effort to keep the curfew in place, Rutte’s government has drafted an emergency bill explicitly giving it power to enforce the curfew. The Senate is due to vote on that bill later on Friday.
At the appeals court hearing, government lawyers cited experts from the country’s National Institute for Health (RIVM) as saying a third wave of coronavirus cases is underway due to the more infectious variant first discovered in the UK, which is now causing most Dutch infections.
“Apparently Virus Truth believes that a disaster must occur first before the state can do anything about it,” government lawyer Reimer Veldhuis told judges.
Jeroen Pols of Virus Truth told judges that the curfew was akin to locking people up before they have committed any crime.
“On this line of reasoning, all our freedoms will be limited and I can tell you we’ll soon all be sitting in an open penitentiary institution,” he said, pointing to other measures currently in place including bans on public meetings of more than two people and a limit of one visitor to a home at a time.
Police have issued 26,000 fines since the curfew was introduced on Jan. 23 – to protesters and those flouting the time limit – that may have to be reversed if the lower court ruling is upheld. (Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Alison Williams and Frances Kerry)