Dutch brothels reopen after virus shutdown

The Netherlands' famed sex clubs such as those found in Amsterdam's Red Light district reopened on Wednesday after a long coronavirus shutdown.
The Netherlands' famed sex clubs such as those found in Amsterdam's Red Light district reopened on Wednesday after a long coronavirus shutdown.
Image: 123RF/ Kristina Kokhanova

Dutch brothels including Amsterdam's famed red light district reopened on Wednesday after a long coronavirus shutdown, with sex workers and clients having to observe new rules to prevent infection.

The Netherlands ordered all sex clubs closed in mid-March and had originally planned to keep them closed until September, but recently brought the date forward as COVID-19 cases dropped.

"I'm totally booked" for Wednesday, Foxxy, a sex worker and activist at the Prostitution Information Center (PIC) in Amsterdam, told AFP, using her professional pseudonym.

"I had a little party when I heard" the government's June 24 announcement that sex work could restart, said Foxxy, who rents a room in a brothel outside the red light district.

"Everybody is so relieved that we can go back to work again because a lot of sex workers didn't get any benefits from the government. So it's really nice to be making money again."

While less restrictive than other countries, the Netherlands' "intelligent lockdown" emptied the red neon-lit, street-front windows from which many of Amsterdam's prostitutes normally beckon customers.

Now they are reopening but, as with Dutch hairdressers and masseurs which have already been allowed to resume operations, sex workers are encouraged to verify that their clients do not have COVID-19 symptoms.

"Before I make an appointment, I have to check with the client if they're feeling ok and if they don't have any of the symptoms, or if any of their housemates has symptoms," Foxxy said.

'No kissing'

Other measures include "disinfection and washing the hands, cleaning the sheets every appointment. Those are the basic needs. But we don't need to wear any face masks during the playdates, thank God."

She added that "most of us will avoid face to face, so no kissing".

Dutch deputy prime minister Hugo de Jonge said on Wednesday that a "new phase in the approach to coronavirus begins" but urged people to remain vigilant.

"With more freedoms and with a great responsibility for all of us to keep a second wave behind the dyke. And we are that dyke ourselves," said de Jonge, whose low-lying country is protected by a huge network of sea defences including dykes.

The Netherlands legalised prostitution in 2000 and sex workers have to register with the local chamber of commerce and pay income tax. Around 7,000 now work in Amsterdam, according to official figures.

But sex workers' lobby groups have repeatedly complained that many have not received benefits during the lockdown.

"I'm an independent contractor so I could get some governmental benefits but I know from a lot of other sectors girls who couldn't do that and they just had to" live on their savings, said Foxxy.

She added that the red light district would "certainly" be more affected because "a lot of sex workers" who often come from eastern Europe and South America returned to their home countries during the lockdown and are still not allowed to travel back to the Netherlands

About 75 percent of its sex workers come from low-income countries, particularly eastern Europe, according to official figures.

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