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Corona (2) in the Netherlands

8 April 2020

A short personal story on coronavirus in the Netherlands, written by Aafke Hoekstra, 7 April 2020

As the third week of working from home came to an end, and I am starting to adjust to this new reality, the time has come to reflect on these turbulent times so far. Ever since the gravity of the situation in Italy became clear everything seems to have developed so rapidly here – and in some ways earlier than I expected – but now with the lockdown measures daily life has come to a standstill.

When the first reports came in from China about a novel virus in early January I have been religiously checking for news updates. The eeriness from the situation made me uneasy from the start, as I imagine it did for most of my fellow countrymen as well. But for most of those in the Netherlands these developments in a faraway country were exactly that – remote, isolated and perhaps even exaggerated – or we would at least we find comfort in this belief. Even when China took draconian containment measures and the virus spread to other Asian countries, the Dutch down-to-earth attitude persisted and hysteria was frowned upon.

Too easily of course this attitude – which arguably has been helpful in the past – can turn into failure to address to scope of the problem and negligence. Especially in the globalized world we live in today it gives a false sense of security. But as it became clear that the virus had undetectably taken hold of northern Italy for what is most likely weeks, it served as a wake-up call for most of Europe, including the Netherlands. So when shortly after this the government imposed strict measures it was a big relief to me, especially as some parts in the south of the Netherlands were quickly becoming coronavirus hot spots.

Today we are cautiously optimistic that the outbreak is slowing but the shortages of healthcare resources is still alarming, including testing capacity which has been limited from the started. I fear that as a result a lot of cases have gone undetected, and while there has been tremendous efforts to catch up, I personally know more suspected cases than confirmed cases of the coronavirus which worries me. This for instance includes my cousin who went skiing with his in-laws in France when the entire family fell ill overnight, my mother’s friend who visited someone who traveled to Italy recently and fell ill for two weeks shortly after and was denied testing, and a former fellow board member of my student association who could not trace his illness but was sick for two weeks and is still recovering from his loss of taste and smell.

Thankfully they have all recovered and their experiences – and those of many others – have made me humble about my own health and that of my family. When the containment measures came in to effect I have decided to stay with family for the time being. Here – in a small Dutch city – I am pleasantly surprised by how easily everyone is accepting the new situation and keeping distance, and I am hoping this will last until needed. But I am also hesitant to imagine that these measures will be needed much longer, as the world might look very different afterwards and will need years to recover.