Focusing on youngsters in Covid-19 get-tough campaign ‘may be counter-productive’

Tourists at the Zaanse Schans before the coronavirus outbreak
Tourists at the Zaanse Schans before the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: depositphotos
Tourists at the Zaanse Schans before the coronavirus outbreak
Tourists at the Zaanse Schans windmill park before the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: depositphotos

A get tough approach from the government as the number of coronavirus infections in the Netherlands rise had been widely expected. But Thursday night’s press conference highlighted contradictions in strategy, according to the Dutch media on Friday.

Broadcaster NOS focused on prime minister Mark Rutte’s appeal to youngsters to take the coronavirus measures – especially social distancing – seriously.

‘Generation expert’ Talitha Muusse told the broadcaster the prime minister was sending the wrong message to young adults, and that his appeal would be counteractive.

Youngsters, she said, have been hard hit by the impact of the crisis, which helps explain why they are not always sticking to the rules. ‘They have little perspective about when life will return to normal,’ she said. ‘Many of them have lost their jobs, they can’t find a work experience placement or complete their studies.’

In addition, singling out youngsters for criticism when everyone has become lax about the rules is taking the easy way out, she said. ‘You have to be serious about communicating with youngsters.’

Breda mayor Paul Depla was also critical of the way young people had been targeted¬† for criticism. ‘We started out by saying that youngsters did not really get sick,’ he pointed out. ‘Now we are saying “what we said earlier was wrong”. And to be fair, we don’t really know what works when it comes to reaching youngsters. We should talk to them a lot more.’


Liberal prime minister Mark Rutte has difficulty playing it tough during this crisis, according to the NRC in an analysis of the government’s position.

During the press conference, Rutte was strict, but as a liberal, he also wants to give people room, and that became apparent as he spoke, the paper said.

The new rules are ‘relatively light’ and the message put across by Rutte and health minister Hugo de Jonge was that of personal responsibility. ‘He [Rutte] downplayed the role the government can play in influencing behaviour and steer the crisis. Only if the man in the street acts more sensibly, can coronavirus be tamed.’


Rutte said several times in answer to reporters” questions that he is ‘not a dictator’, and that he does not want to bring in tougher measures. But this, coupled with the decision to give mayors more powers to develop a regional approach, is weakening the position of the cabinet, the paper said.

And the insistence that face masks have limited impact but allowing their introduction in Rotterdam and Amsterdam is also at odds with public opinion. Now the public is less willing to follow the rules in general, the prime minister’s liberal approach, the paper said, is being undermined.

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