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Dutch queue for cannabis as coronavirus closes cafes

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The Hague (AFP)

Cannabis smokers aiming to keep calm and carry on despite coronavirus queued up outside Dutch "coffee shops" on Sunday after the government ordered their closure to beat the outbreak.

Customers lined up in their dozens as they tried to beat a deadline for the closure of the marijuana cafes and stockpile weed supplies for what could be weeks of lockdown.

The Netherlands' famed coffee shops have become as much a part of the country's popular image abroad as sex clubs in Amsterdam's famed red light district, which were also ordered to shut by 6:00 pm along with all bars and restaurants.

"For maybe for the next two months we're not able to get some weed so it should be nice to at least have some in the house," Jonathan, a Dutch buyer, said outside The Point coffee shop in The Hague.

"My friend called me like five minutes ago, he saw the press conference -- good friend," he told AFP.

The queues built up minutes after the Dutch health and education ministers gave a televised press conference announcing the closure of many businesses, along with all Dutch schools.

Similar scenes were reported around the country, with pictures on social media of long queues outside coffee shops in the capital Amsterdam and the historic university city of Utrecht.

Whereas days earlier it was supermarkets besieged with people trying to hoard toilet paper and pasta, the sudden announcement of the coffee shop closure meant there were new priorities.

- 'Bit of weed' -

Staff set up separate lines for cash and cards as customers hurried to order supplies of exotically named strains like "Doctor", "Bubble" and "Purple Haze" before the doors shut.

"I wouldn't mind having a little bit of weed -- keep it easy while we're at home for so long. It might be a long time in quarantine," said an Irish woman who gave her name as Hannah as she queued in The Hague.

"I was literally just watching the press conference with my flatmate and then I just went downstairs and suddenly there's this queue of like 30 people, and all these cars arriving as well now."

Lines also built up at Roermond near the border with Germany, amid fears that the German government would shut its borders with the Netherlands next after introducing strict controls for those arriving from France, Austria, Switzerland, Luxemburg and Denmark from Monday

Cannabis is technically illegal in the Netherlands, but it decriminalised the possession of less than five grammes (0.18 ounces) of the substance in 1976 under a so-called "tolerance" policy.

The cannabis queues came despite Health Minister Bruno Bruins making an "urgent appeal" to Dutch people during Sunday's press conference, saying: "Do not hoard. It is not necessary."

Prime Minister Mark Rutte will on Monday make a televised address to the nation, which has so far recorded 20 deaths from COVID-19 disease and 1,135 infections.

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