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Dutch protest against COVID-19 vaccine pass to enter bars, restaurants

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People protest against the new "corona pass", in The Hague

By Eva Plevier

THE HAGUE (Reuters) -Hundreds of protesters marched against the introduction of a "corona pass" in the Netherlands on Saturday, as proof of COVID-19 vaccination became compulsory to get into bars, restaurants, theatres and other venues.

The new requirement to show the pass or a recent negative coronavirus test came into force on Saturday, coinciding with the lifting of almost all social distancing measures in the country, where 72% of the population has received at least one vaccine dose.

While face masks will still be mandatory on public transport, students and teachers will no longer have to wear masks in schools, and a rule for 1.5-metre (nearly 5 feet) distancing in public places was also scrapped.

A crowd of several hundred people weaved through the streets of the Dutch government capital, The Hague, with techno music playing over mobile loudspeakers.

They carried banners denouncing vaccines and some compared the COVID-19 restrictions to measures imposed by repressive governments. "Medical Apartheid. Stop vaccine passports," one sign read.

Most Dutch people support the corona pass, which also faced opposition when introduced in other European countries such as Italy and France. The move has mainly drawn criticism from the hospitality sector in the Netherlands.

More than 40% of bar and restaurant owners do not plan to ask customers for a certificate, the country's Horeca Nederland hospitality industry association said, citing a survey of its members.

It said many businesses saw the requirement as a "political tool" aimed at boosting vaccination take-up.

"It is not only impossible to enforce, but will financially damage a sector that is just starting to recover," the association added in a statement.

The decision to introduce the pass also drew criticism from within the government of caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

"If we end up in a society where we have to be afraid of each other unless we can show proof, then you really have to scratch your head and ask yourself: Is this the direction we want to go?" Deputy Economic Affairs Minister Mona Keijzer said in a newspaper interview.

(Writing by Anthony DeutschEditing by Helen Popper and Clelia Oziel)

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