While MPs in The Hague debated the gloomy reality on Wednesday evening, hundreds shouted, drank and danced in party tents on the square in front of the parliament building. Similar scenes have also been reported from other cities. Probably one last dance before bars, cafes and restaurants had to close for at least four weeks.
The behavior suits the Dutch, who like to measure the value of life by how «gezellig» it is. Even in the summer months, tourists were amazed at how easily the Dutch took it with the Corona crisis. As soon as the first “intelligent lockdown” was over on June 1st, normal life resumed in full. No masks, no controls, but a dense crowd in shops and bars. Super cellular.
Alarm signals on red
In the meantime, the coronavirus spread at lightning speed. Last Friday, almost 8,000 new infections were reported within 24 hours – in a country with a good 17 million inhabitants. The situation in hospitals and intensive care units is threatening. So many Covid-19 patients are already there that normal care for other patients is being dismantled. The emergency rooms in large cities have to be temporarily closed. There are too few beds and too few staff, and ambulances with patients are lining up outside the doors.
All alarm signals are red. The situation is more threatening than in spring, said the Amsterdam virologist Hans Zaaijer of the newspaper “De Telegraaf”. “We are on the verge of a disaster.”
In order to avert this, Prime Minister Mark Rutte imposed a “partial lockdown”. Among other things, restaurants are closed and a mask requirement is introduced.
The face masks became the symbol of fickle politics. The right-wing liberal prime minister considers them nonsense. “Masks don’t do anything.” But at the beginning of the week he suddenly appeared himself with a «maskertje», a «little girl», as he said almost affectionately. A signal for the citizens: now it’s getting serious.
Rutte would like to fight the virus with just the simplest of commands: wash hands, keep a distance of 1.5 meters, test if symptoms occur. The 53-year-old doesn’t think much of orders either. “I’m not a dictator,” he says. “We are all adults.”
That suits the Dutch very well, because they don’t like being told something. Many citizens, so criticized the “NRC Handelsblad”, interpret the few corona rules in the way that suits them best. Receive only three guests? Then we invite three an hour. 1.5 meters distance? Oh, I can’t get the virus. Tested positive? 20 percent go shopping quickly.
Andreas Voss, professor of infection prevention in Nijmegen and one of the government advisors, also complains about the lack of discipline. “People should finally obey the rules”. The microbiologist sees an essential difference to his German compatriots. “There is less discussion of the measures and the guidelines are better followed.”
Talking actually goes like clockwork in the Netherlands. Since March, influencers, self-appointed experts and bloggers have been discussing the sense and nonsense of the corona measures at the tables of the three most important TV talk shows on a daily basis.
“We all did not do well,” admits the prime minister. But now his government is also being held responsible for things getting out of hand. The left opposition accuses the cabinet of systematic errors and weak leadership.
Even the testing doesn’t work – despite all the promises. The health authorities have far too few employees and the laboratories terrifyingly little capacity. You are also hopelessly overwhelmed with tracking down the contact persons and thus finding the source of an infection. Everyone should do that themselves. The Corona app, which was announced with much fanfare in March, was only introduced seven months later, last week.
Capacity in hospitals is not enough
The capacity of the hospitals is also insufficient at the back and front. At the beginning of the corona pandemic, there were around 1,150 beds in intensive care units. In comparison: in North Rhine-Westphalia alone, which has a similar population, there are over 6,000 – five times as many. Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas confirmed Germany‘s willingness to accept corona patients from other EU countries, depending on capacities. “In Europe, we can now coordinate this much better with the new early warning system than in spring,” he tells the editorial network Germany (RND). As in the spring, clinics in North Rhine-Westphalia want to admit Covid-19 patients from the neighboring country; Lower Saxony is also ready to help.
The country now wants to prevent the worst by making a final effort. Social life is largely still for at least four weeks. The dance with the virus is over – for the time being.