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Dutch celebs face backlash over Covid rebellion

By Anna Holligan
BBC News, The Hague

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image copyrightRTL4/Jinek
image captionSinger and model Famke Louise was widely criticised after she appeared on Dutch talk show Jinek

Influencers, rappers and a world-renowned DJ have been heavily criticised in the Netherlands after publicly announcing they were abandoning efforts to combat Covid-19.

Their campaign came as the numbers in Dutch intensive care units hit 100 for the first time since June and infection rates rose 60% on last week.

The Netherlands is among several European nations seeing a second wave.

The young stars used the hashtag #ik doe niet meer mee - "I'm out".

But as the backlash has grown, a number of them appear to have changed their minds.

'Free the people'

The young celebrities were recruited or attracted by a group called "Virus Truth" that promotes the conspiracy theory that the risks posed by the virus have been exaggerated and used by governments to violate people's freedoms and fundamental rights.

In a video posted on Instagram, singer and model Famke Louise tossed her ponytail and pouted at the camera while telling her million followers: "Only together can we get the government back under control, I am no longer taking part, free the people."

However, the young rapper struggled to defend her position on popular chat show Jinek, explaining in exasperation, "I don't mind the 1.5m (5ft) society," she said referring to social distancing rules. "It's about the principle that we live in a society where people need their freedom, in which people just want to have fun."

image copyrightRobin Utrecht/Shutterstock
image captionFamke Louise is among the biggest young influencers in the Netherlands

She also expressed frustration about the impact that measures to curb the spread of the virus were having on the entertainment industry.

Dutch dance hit-maker Hardwell and rapper Bizzey, who has 400,000 Instagram followers, were among other celebrities who shared the hashtag.

'Not my day'

Famke Louise's TV appearance has been mocked on social media with people sharing memes of doctors standing over patients with the words, "I'm out".

Then, on Wednesday night, the young YouTube star-turned-rapper removed her video from Instagram and posted a lengthy apology in its place, saying it was "not my best day".

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionSinger Tim Douwsma accepted the hashtag they had signed up to had not been a good idea

She revealed that she now realised "the seriousness of making unsubstantiated statements" and would look for someone who specialised in pandemics to educate her.

A number of other celebrities and influencers have also removed their #ikdoenietmeermee videos, most of them without explaining why.

Singer Tim Douwsma removed his video and Bizzey posted on Twitter on Thursday that he would have "nothing more to do" with Willem Engel, the dance teacher behind the "Virus Truth" movement.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionDJ Bizzey said the hashtag had obscured the message and it had not gone down well

Dutch online hip-hop platform Puna said others had too, including Rugged, Trobi, Dyna, Outsiders, DJ Chuckie, Zoe Livay, Abstract, Yes-R, and Kosso.

Fears for public health campaign

Ironically Famke Louise, 21, was among a group of influencers previously paid by the Dutch government to appear in an advert encouraging people to follow the advice designed to bring the virus under control.

There are now fears that the opposition of these young celebrities will undermine support among their adoring followers, and along with it respect for the rules.

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"It's definitely a risk. That hashtag got a lot of attention. A lot of people were quite angry," epidemiologist Patricia Bruijning-Verhagen told the BBC.

"I'm not sure it meant more people not adhering to the guidelines; maybe it will mean more people do because they're so angry about what these people did. It could go both ways. Influencers distributing these types of things is not good. It's not what we need at the moment."

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge reacted with a counter hashtag #Ik doe wel mee - "I AM taking part". Other politicians pointed out Covid-19 was not simply a game you could stop playing.

Pop star Tim Knol shared a song accusing those promoting the "Virus Truth" campaign of doing something very dangerous.

Dutch divided over Covid

The online rivalry reflects a division that runs through Dutch society on the government's restrictions on public life.

Many believe measures such as bringing forward last orders in bars to midnight and stopping football fans from shouting on the terraces do not go far enough compared with their European neighbours.

But a minority here want all the restrictions lifted.

And these virtual campaigns are beginning to have real-life consequences.

Staff at one care home have reportedly received death threats and abuse from supporters of the "Virus Truth" movement. Willem Engel said the threats were "regrettable" and the group rejected all forms of verbal abuse or violence.

The BBC has reached out to the movement for a comment but has not yet received a response.

Ms Bruijning-Verhagen says younger people may be less at risk, but their loved ones will not be.

"If your granny survived the first wave, make sure you're not the one that's going to cause her not to survive the second one."

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