Amsterdam’s red-light district gets green light to reopen after coronavirus lockdown

A sex worker in Amsterdam's red-light district
A sex worker in Amsterdam’s famous red-light district shields her face from a photographer.
(Peter Dejong / Associated Press)

It wasn’t quite business as usual Wednesday as Amsterdam’s famous 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, located 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 trades and professions allowed to resume operations Wednesday in the latest relaxation of COVID-19 prevention measures in the Netherlands. Gyms also reopened their doors.


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 city 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.

Most forms of in-person social interaction have waned dramatically because of the coronavirus pandemic, and casual sex is no exception. But a minority of people have been willing to assume the risk of one-night trysts in an attempt to ease stress, loneliness and boredom.

Sex workers took steps to minimize the risk of infection to themselves and their clients, including checking individuals for coronavirus 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 mix of bars, brothels, sex shows and coffee shops selling marijuana.