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Growing resistance to the lockdown: Covid-19 policies challenged in Dutch court

While the number of Covid-19 victims is still substantial in some countries, in others the virus has practically disappeared. This appears to be the case in the Netherlands, where the government claims it is the result of an effective lockdown for the last few months. In order to keep the situation from worsening and maintaining sufficient IC capacity, a bill called the “Temporary Law Covid-19” is pending in the Dutch parliament which gives a more solid legal basis to the emergency measures that have so far been implemented in an ad hoc fashion. If passed, the law would not only, among many other measures described in a 72-page draft document, allow the authorities to fine those who do not keep 1,5 meter distance in public spaces, but includes far-reaching measures such as ordering individuals to leave a private property if there is “a serious risk of an immediate spread of Covid-19”. The government describes this situation as “the new normal”.

Despite criticism from state organs such as the Council of State, the most powerful resistance has come from a bottom-up citizens’ initiative called Viruswaanzin – a movement which has quickly gained momentum. Ignored for several weeks by mainstream media, the movement has drawn attention to its agenda by planning to organize a demonstration on 21 June which was subsequently prohibited by the authorities.

The demonstration was an anticipation of summary proceedings that Viruswaanzin has initiated against the state and the RIVM (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment). Demanding the instant withdrawal of all Covid-19 measures, it claims that the measures inflict enormous damage whilst no legitimate purpose is being served. More particularly, the writ of summons takes a two-pronged approach, arguing first that the government policy is based on confidential and fake research results and second that the policies conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights. In addition, Viruswaanzin suspects that the RIVM has falsified research results and that its director has possibly misinformed the Lower House.

Viruswaanzin, which has built so much expertise in a short time that it confidently presents itself as an “alternative RIVM”, concludes that the virus was a “false alarm”, that it is not more dangerous than an ordinary flue, and that far fewer people can get infected than previously expected due to their innate immune system. It also focuses on the disastrous side effects of the policy, from the thousands of deaths that are to be expected due to the postponement of up to 400.000 regular medical treatment to the 300.000 bankruptcies that will render 1 million citizens unemployed.

In addition to demanding the withdrawal of all limiting lockdown measures, Viruswaanzin calls on the court to declare the draft law ineffective. The legal expert of the organization states that “with this law the government is no longer combatting a virus but abolishing our democratic constitutional state”.

The proceedings will be heard by the District Court of The Hague on 25 June. The latest news is that no journalists will be allowed in the courtroom other than the Dutch Broadcasting Foundation which will stream the event. Viruswaanzin has announced to critically inquire with the court why it deviates from the standard practice of a public hearing. Remarkably, the judge who had been appointed to hear the case – and had been preparing for two weeks – has been replaced by another judge due to a compulsory quarantine after complaining about a cold one day before the hearing. Viruswaanzin considers this awkward timing and doubts that any replacement judge can do full justice to the 55-page writ of summons with so little time to prepare.

Edited by: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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