Dutch museums, concert halls open briefly in protest at COVID-19 lockdown

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  • Offer yoga sessions, haircut as symphony orchestra plays
  • Lockdown eased last week, but not for cultural venues
  • Famed Van Gogh, Frans Hals museums open at risk of fine
  • 'Why are measures still so strict?' one visitor asks
  • Protest is 'cry for help' but caution needed -government

AMSTERDAM, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Museums and concert halls in the Netherlands opened briefly on Wednesday to protest at their continued closure under a COVID-19 lockdown, offering yoga sessions in front of paintings by Dutch masters and haircuts to the swell of a live symphony orchestra.

The Netherlands eased a month-long lockdown last weekend, allowing gyms, hair dressers and shops to reopen. But cultural venues were ordered to remained closed to the public until at least Jan. 25.

"I simply don't understand why the measures are still so strict, preventing cultural events from happening," said Alexandra Gerny, a life coach who could not resist an invitation to have her hair done on stage while the 130-year-old Concertgebouw Orchestra played.

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"If you look at the rest of Europe, I find myself asking: why so cautious? I simply don't get it. The damage caused by staying closed is so much greater. It just makes me so angry and that's not so easy to do!"

She was among 50 visitors welcomed to the "Kapsalon Concertgebouw" haircut performance, held in violation of rules banning concerts for an audience.

Guests wore masks and socially distanced, while attendants at the entrance checked passes showing proof of vaccination against COVID-19, recovery from the illness, or a negative test.

Famous museums across the Netherlands, from the Van Gogh in Amsterdam to the Frans Hals in Haarlem, opened their doors at risk of being fined. Also on offer to visitors were Tai Chi sessions and nail studios.

Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema said she would "enforce" the current lockdown measures but there were no signs of officials doing so.

In a Twitter post, Junior Culture Minister Gunay Uslu voiced understanding for the protest but urged caution. "The cultural sector is drawing attention to their situation in a creative way. I understand the cry for help and that artists want to show all the beautiful things they have to offer us. But the opening of society must go step by step. Culture is high on the agenda."

Prime Minister Mark Rutte last week announced the reopening of shops and resumption of group sports despite record numbers of new COVID-19 cases. read more

New infections have been hitting near daily records above 30,000. The Netherlands has recorded more than 3.5 million infections and 21,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic. But hospital numbers have been steadily declining.

"It's a protest of the cultural sector in the Netherlands," said Dominik Winterling, the new managing director of the Concertgebouw. "We want to make sure that the politicians in The Hague understand that we want to open again."

After nearly two years of uncertainty, performers and musicians need perspective, he said.

"We simply don't know what's going on. We cannot open from one day to the next, so we need some time to prepare. What we really want is to play for an audience because that's what we're there for. We want to inspire people. That's what it's about.

Winterling said he could not guarantee everyone would get a haircut, but they would all experience a show to remember.

Gerny, the life coach, planned to ask hair dressers Marga Bon and Lysandro Cicilia for a "little trim as it's just gotten a bit long", while enjoying a rehearsal of a symphony by U.S. composer Charles Ives.

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Reporting by Anthony Deutsch Editing by Mark Heinrich

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