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Effects of COVID-19 in The Netherlands: Herd Immunity

The government of The Netherlands has had a very different response to the COVID-19 pandemic from the rest of the world. They plan to let the population get infected to build a herd immunity.

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The Voice is the student newspaper run by internationals at KU Leuven. Between 2018 and 2022, The Voice published articles on the Veto website under the The Voice section, combined with translations of Dutch Veto articles. After 2022, the section was renamed to Veto English. Since then, the section has been operated by Veto English staff only.

Latest statement by the Belgian authorities on COVID-19 here.

More information on COVID-19 from the Belgian authorities here.

Marit Pepplinkhuizen & Gwynne van Kaauwen

Opinion/Politics Section Editor & Contributing Writer

This article is part of an overview put together by the editorial team of The Voice, international student magazine on the effects COVID-19 has had on the daily lives of people in different countries across the World. We previously highlighted Spain in an article which can be found here, and more accounts from people from different countries will soon follow.

In the Netherlands the policy is to work towards a so-called ‘herd immunity’. It is claimed that people who have been infected with Corona become immune to it. If at least 60% of a group become immune, this is what we call herd immunity.

In the Netherlands this means that 10 million people would have to get infected with Corona.

Prime minister Mark Rutte announced in a speech on national television this week that it is impossible to get rid of Corona in its entirety and that therefore it would not make sense to have a complete lockdown. A lockdown would, according to Rutte, not be feasible and would be too rigorous since the virus would later return anyway. At the same time, he has been urging, naturally, to take social distancing seriously. Still, it has only been a few days since schools, bars, restaurants, sport centres and old people’s homes have been closed in the Netherlands, while the country already had dozens of deaths and hundreds of people in the hospitals (the death toll was 43 on the 17th of March and 314 people were hospitalized). Emphasizing to take social distancing seriously was necessary in the Netherlands, since many people were reluctant to be serious about it, perhaps due to the “nuchtere volksaard”, which is best translated as being a down-to-earth people. Yet, this attitude is not funny to everyone and people have especially been shaking their heads after seeing the prime minister advising a few weeks ago to not shake hands anymore, after which he was filmed shaking hands - laughing loudly at his folly.

Most people in the Netherlands have not been outside for weeks already, especially in the province of Noord-Brabant, which has been hit the hardest by Corona. With the prime minister curiously stating in his speech that almost everyone in the Netherlands will eventually get Corona, the atmosphere is rather one of panic than the resignation that Rutte might have been going for.

Furthermore, the World Health Organization emphasizes that not enough is known yet about Corona, so that it cannot be said with any certainty that herd immunity is even possible in the case of this virus. It should probably be noted that Rutte is the head of a party in the Netherlands that embraces free market thinking, and that he emphasizes in almost every circumstance that the economy should not suffer. Critics think that Rutte is sending mixed signals: on the one hand people have to stay at home, but on the other hand saying that almost everyone will eventually be infected with Corona, makes people think that they might as well just get it now. Thus, critics say, with this message Rutte is encouraging people to go outside and not take social distancing as seriously. Indeed, in the Netherlands social gatherings at home have still been taking place this week and people are more busy with making memes and joking around about the virus than anything else. The Netherlands still hopes to flatten the curve so that there will not be a shortage of hospital beds when the peak arrives.

In the meantime a lot of citizens’ initiatives have been set up. From doing groceries for the elderly and people with weaker immune systems to funding the biggest Islamic cemetery in Western-Europe because coffins cannot be sent to other countries right now.

Tuesday evening at 20:00, Dutch citizens clapped to thank all the people that keep society running: health care personnel, teachers, administrators, people in the food sector, the waste industry and the media. It shows that crises bring out both the worst (e.g. hoarding) and the best in people.

Besides the aviation sector, also public transport and to a lesser extent the freight transport sector has felt the consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic. The Dutch railway company announced they will switch to a basic timetable; a severe cutback in the amount of trains, but assuring service at every station. Other public transport operators reduced their services earlier this week. The monetary losses depend on the duration of the crisis situation, but like in aviation the public transport sector has a lot of fixed costs (e.g. infrastructure, maintenance and salaries of employees with a permanent contract). Thus one can only guess the economic impact will be large.

When it comes to freight transport there are currently no big issues in the Netherlands. However, when more and more countries close their borders, it could become harder to transport goods. Since a large part of the GDP of the country comes from trade, this could severely harm the Dutch economy. The government has recently presented an emergency package of measures for companies, their employees and freelancers. It concerns about 15 billion euros, more than the yearly expenses on national defense in The Netherlands.

One of the most famous export products of the country are flowers, but the crisis has already reduced the demand by 50 to 90%.

On the island of Curaçao there is less social security and people are being forced to take their vacation days now during the Corona crisis. Forcing them to do so is of course illegal, but since it is already hard to find a job in Curaçao, nobody is protesting it. The economy is said to be dead right now since there are no flights and there is no shipping anymore.

Official information from the government of The Netherlands here (in English):

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