Thousands of protesters have packed Amsterdam’s streets in opposition to the government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions and vaccination campaign as virus infections hit a new record.
Authorities were granted stop and search powers at several locations across the city and scores of riot police vans patrolled neighbourhoods where the demonstrators marched with banners and yellow umbrellas.
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Regular protests against COVID measures are held across the country and Sunday’s large gathering was joined by farmers who drove to the capital and parked tractors along the central Museum Square.
The crowd played music, chanted anti-government slogans and then marched along thoroughfares, blocking traffic.
Al Jazeera’s Step Vassen said while the mood at the rally was “quite heated”, the protests were peaceful.
“There’s a wide range of people against government measures and a general distrust of politics,” she said.
“A lot of people are now not obeying the rules and are violating many of the rules that are still in place.”
During the march, police separated a small group of anti-fascist protesters and moved them on by bus to a different location.
Dutch radical right-wing groups often join demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions, and police wanted to make sure there was no confrontation with anti-fascist activists.
The Netherlands had one of Europe’s toughest lockdowns for a month through the end-of-year holidays.
Amid growing public opposition, Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Friday announced the reopening of stores, hairdressers and gyms, partially lifting a lockdown despite record numbers of new COVID-19 cases.
Infections reached another record high above 36,000 on Sunday, data published by the Netherlands Institute for Health (RIVM) showed. The Netherlands has recorded more than 3.5 million infections and 21,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Rutte’s government ordered the lockdown in mid-December as a wave of the Delta variant forced the health system to cancel all but the most urgent care and it appeared rising Omicron cases would overwhelm it.
Non-essential stores, hairdressers, beauty salons and other service providers were allowed to reopen on Saturday under strict conditions.
Bars, restaurants and cultural venues have been instructed to remain closed until at least January 25 due to uncertainty about how the Omicron wave will affect hospital capacity.