‘No kissing’: Amsterdam’s red light district reopens after coronavirus shutdown

Sex workers welcome the chance to earn again but with strict rules about face-to-face contact, hygiene and making clients check for symptoms

Amsterdam’s famed red light district has reopened after a long coronavirus shutdown, with sex workers and clients having to observe new rules to prevent infection.

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

Felicia Anna, a 34-year-old Romanian sex worker, said it “felt very good” to be back at work.

“During the lockdown, a lot of sex workers ran into financial trouble so we’re very happy that we can finally start our job again,” Anna, chairwoman of the Red Light United trade union, said.

She said there were fears that there would be fewer clients, since many of them are tourists and the Netherlands still has a travel ban on many countries.

“But I did ask some of my colleagues and so far they said that the work is quite ok.”

“I’m totally booked” for Wednesday, added Foxxy, a sex worker and activist at the Prostitution Information Center in Amsterdam, using her professional pseudonym.

She “had a little party” when she heard the government’s 24 June announcement that sex work could restart, added Foxxy, who rents a room in a brothel outside the red light district.

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.

Other measures include “disinfection and washing the hands, cleaning the sheets after 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”.

Felicia Anna said that “after the customer leaves the room, we’re going to disinfect everything he might have touched, bed, sink, the toilet if he used the toilet, the doorknobs, everything”.

But she said that sex workers were already well versed in hygiene, adding: “We already dealt with much bigger diseases than corona.”

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.

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.

Anna said 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.

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