Amsterdam's red-light district awakens from lockdown

A building with sex workers' posters in the red light district during the COVID-19 pandemic, June 27, 2020, Amsterdam, Netherlands. (SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

It wasn't quite business as usual Wednesday as Amsterdam's red-light district emerged from coronavirus lockdown, but it was close.

"We are, of course, used to taking care of hygiene," said Janet van der Berg of the Prostitution Information Center in the heart of the network of cobbled streets and canals where sex workers pose in windows bathed in red light to attract customers.

Sex work was among the professions allowed back in business as of July 1 in the latest relaxation of virus-prevention measures in the Netherlands. Gyms also reopened their doors Wednesday.

Van der Berg said not all of the windows in the historic buildings of the red-light district were occupied on the first day of post-lockdown business. The number of tourists and visitors to the Dutch capital has slumped since the pandemic all but halted global tourism

But according to van der Berg, it was bustling as sex workers welcomed clients again."I've heard that they're busy. I think there's a party atmosphere," she said. 

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Sex workers took steps to minimize the risk to themselves and their clients of becoming infected with the coronavirus, including checking individuals for symptoms before letting them through a window.

"There are hand gels and we've thought about what positions are handy — or not — but that's not in an official protocol, you can work that out for yourself," said van der Berg. "And once the client is gone, you have to disinfect the place well. ... I think in this way we can work as safely as other people who have to work close to their clients, like hairdressers." 

The red-light district remains one of Amsterdam's major tourism magnets with its often seedy mix of bars, brothels, sex shows and coffee shops selling marijuana.


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