They are young, famous and apparently could no longer abide by the coronavirus restrictions. But a group of Dutch celebrities who sparked a national debate after breaking cover on social media with the hashtag #ikdoenietmeermee, (I no longer participate), have begun frantically backtracking after becoming the target of government and public opprobrium.
The central figure, rapper and model Famke Louise, 21, had told her 1 million Instagram followers she was no longer willing to go along with the growing number of restrictions designed to slow the spread of the virus. “Only together can we regain control of the government,” she said. “I no longer participate. Free the people.”
Louise, who earlier in the pandemic had taken part in a government advert promoting adherence to coronavirus rules, had been joined in her protest by the hip-hop star Bizzey, 35, and the singers Tim Douwsma, 32, and Thomas Berge, 30, among others.
“We are no longer keeping our mouths shut,” the celebrities said in their coordinated videos, a reference to comments by the prime minister, Mark Rutte’s, that cheering football fans “just had to shut up” to avoid spreading the virus.
But it did not take long for doubts to emerge among the group, as politicians and fellow TV personalities lined up to accuse them of putting lives at risk. Louise also appeared to have lost a contract to perform at a major music event before she made her U-turn.
In an interview on Dutch television and in a subsequent Instagram post, the singer admitted that she regretted ever getting involved.
“I realise the seriousness of making unsubstantiated statements,” she said. “I would like to apologise to all who have felt hurt or confused and promise to do my best.”
Her fellow protesters also quietly deleted their Instagram videos.
The row comes amid a backdrop of criticism of the Dutch government’s handling of the crisis. The charge against the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, had been a lack of “honesty and transparency” about the effectiveness of face masks and the 1.5-metre social distancing rule.
In recent weeks there has been a worrying resurgence of the disease in the Netherlands, leading to regional clampdowns on social activities in an attempt to slow the spread. For the first time since the start of the crisis, earlier this week the Netherlands recorded more than 2,000 new infections in a single day.
But the #ikdoenietmeermee campaign apparently failed to recognise the wider public support for measures to protect the most vulnerable. The group faced a barrage of attacks from all angles.
One of Louise’s TV appearances was widely mocked on social media with people sharing memes of doctors standing over patients with the words, “I’m out”.
Health minister, Hugo de Jonge, had responded on Twitter with his own hashtag #ikdoewelmee, (I do participate). “In order for healthcare to last, we have to participate – all of us,” he said.
Klaas Dijkhoff, the chairman of the parliamentary group of the ruling centre-right VVD party, tweeted that “the virus is not a game that you can stop for a while”. The Labour party leader, Lodewijk Asscher, called the celebrities’ campaign “completely wrong”.
The celebrities were encouraged to make their videos by a group called “Virus Truth” that promotes the theory that the risks posed by the virus have been exaggerated.