Sex workers back in business as Dutch COVID curbs ease

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Sex workers will go back to work in the Netherlands this week under an easing of COVID-19 curbs, health minister Hugo de Jonge said on Monday.

Authorities will also let parks, zoos, gyms and outdoor swimming pools reopen on Wednesday, after the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations eased pressure on hospitals, the minister told reporters.

Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, but the government barred it in mid-December under restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Sex workers protested in Amsterdam in March, saying they were being discriminated against as the authorities allowed other "contact businesses" including hairdressers and masseurs to reopen.

During the lockdown, the government offered limited financial support to sex workers who had a valid working contract and could prove that the pandemic had cost them at least 20% of their revenue.

De Jonge said vaccination and infection levels had now reached a point where the government could go ahead with plans for a measured easing of restrictions.

Public libraries will reopen on Thursday and further steps, including reopening museums and allowing indoor service at restaurants, are expected in the next three weeks, he added.

"This a responsible step at this moment, but we have to stay very careful", De Jonge told reporters, referring to the broader relaxation.

"We see a significant contribution from vaccinations. But we're not there yet," he added.

Coronavirus infections in the Netherlands have dropped by more than a quarter this month, after climbing to their highest levels of the year in April.

This has cut the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals by more than 10% in the past week, as new admissions fell more than 20%.

Since the start of the pandemic, around 1.6 million coronavirus infections have been confirmed in the country of 17 million people, with more than 20,000 deaths.

(Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Toby Chopra and Andrew Heavens)

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