THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Dutch opposition lawmakers slammed the government’s plan to introduce a curfew to rein in the spread of the coronavirus during a debate about the measure Thursday, calling it a disproportionate restriction of freedom and questioning its effectiveness.
The comments during a debate in parliament underscored growing frustration at months of restrictions intended to tackle the pandemic that has killed more than 13,000 people in the Netherlands.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Wednesday his government needs to introduce the unpopular measure amid fears that new, more contagious variants of the virus could lead to a spike in infections and swamp the health care system.
But with the government in caretaker mode since resigning Friday, it needs approval from a majority of lawmakers to impose the curfew.
Geert Wilders, leader of the largest opposition party, called the proposed curfew “a sign of utter impotence and panic” from the government.
“We are being imprisoned at home on the orders of Mark Rutte. If you leave home without his permission, you get a fine. We are losing our freedom en masse and that is no fun. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about,” said Wilders who has for years lived under round-the-clock security because of death threats prompted by his strident anti-Islam policies.
Tunahan Kuzu, of the Think party, warned that Rutte’s proposal would turn the Netherlands into a “police state,” while other lawmakers urged the government to better enforce existing lockdown measures such as the call for people to work from home.
Even one of the parties in Rutte’s four-party ruling coalition criticized the proposed 8:30 p.m.-to-4:30 a.m. curfew, saying that, if it is necessary, it should start later in the evening.
If parliament approves the curfew, the Netherlands would join other European Union countries that have told people to stay home after dark, including Belgium, France, Italy, Greece and parts of Germany.
Rutte and other government ministers were to address lawmakers later in the debate. He appealed for support for the measure when he announced the plan Wednesday, saying “we are at a crucial moment for our security, for our national public health.”
Rutte’s coalition resigned Friday over a scandal involving thousands of parents wrongly being labeled fraudsters by the country’s tax office.
The Netherlands has been in a tough lockdown since Dec. 15. Numbers of infections and hospital admissions have been declining in recent weeks but health authorities are concerned that the more transmissible mutation of the coronavirus first detected in Britain will make up the majority of Dutch cases by mid-February.
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Mike Corder, The Associated Press