Thursday 09 April 2020

Coronavirus in the Netherlands: more of your questions

Photo: Brandon Hartley

The Netherlands is currently in a state of semi-lockdown in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. On Sunday the government announced a string of new measures, including the closure of schools and daycare centres to all but the children of essential workers. Here are the answers to some of the new questions you may have:

Why are we not in total lockdown?
The government does not consider it necessary at the moment, as long as the health service can cope. But it has not been ruled out at some point in the future.

Can I travel abroad?
The government is recommending against all but essential travel and has imposed major restrictions on incoming travellers.

I am a freelancer and my income is drying up. Can I get help?
The government is working on a scheme to top up freelancers’ income to the level of welfare benefits and will publish more information as soon as it is finalised.

I own a small business. Is there help for me?
The government is working on a string of measures to help small firms.

I am an employee. What are my rights with regard to coronavirus?
This article by lawyers at GMW outlines your rights as a worker.

Can I still go to the shops?
Yes, unless you are showing any symptoms, but keep away from other shoppers. If you have symptoms, say home.

Why are non-food shops still open?
Health minister Bruno Bruins has said other measures may still be taken at a later date. The decision to close cafes and bars was partly taken because so many were busy last weekend, not least with tourists from over the border in Belgium, where bars had been closed. Many shops are closing voluntarily.

Can my children play outside with other kids?
Research appears to indicate that children are less seriously affected by the virus and virologists say there is no reason to stop children playing with each other, as long as they have no symptoms. But you should be aware there is a risk they will pick up the virus and spread it to others.

I am pregnant. Should I be worried?
As far as we know, there is no increased risk of miscarriage or birth defects due to infection with this virus.

Can I go out for a walk or a run?
Yes, providing you keep your distance from others and don’t have any symptoms.

Can I walk my dog?
Same as above.

Can I go to the hairdresser?
Opinion is divided on this, but the golden rule, virologists say, is stay home if you have any symptoms – both as hairdresser and client. And wash your hands regularly.

Can I celebrate my birthday?
In general, any unnecessary gatherings should be postponed. In particular, avoid contact with the elderly who are the most susceptible.

Can I become infected from a package that I’ve ordered? 
Coronaviruses spread through humans and animals. Acccording to the RIVM, they do not survive well outside the body, on cardboard, packaging material or other items. The chance that you will be infected by touching surfaces or products is very small but to be sure wash your hands afterwards.

Can the health service cope?
Some hospitals are postponing non-emergency operations but at the moment there are no signs that hospitals are becoming overloaded. There are some 1,500 intensive care beds available in the Netherlands and plans to create a further 500 are underway.

Some hospitals have also cancelled leave in readiness for the expected rise in the number of cases requiring hospitalisation.

What are the best ways to protect myself?
The Dutch public health institute RIVM and World Health Organisation say everyone should follow these instructions to prevent infection:

  • Don’t shake hands and avoid physical contact
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap or alcohol rub
  • Sneeze into a tissue or  your elbow
  • Use paper tissues and dispose of them immediately
  • Stay away at least 1.5 metres away from other people
  • Avoid touching your face with your hands, which may have picked up the virus
  • Avoid groups

The RIVM says face masks should only be worn by medical staff. Most of the paper masks used by the general public are worthless and offer a false sense of security, officials say.

Can I get tested?
Tests for coronavirus can only be requested via the local health board or a hospital and it takes around 24 hours for the test results to come through.

Testing is currently only being carried out on people who have worsening symptoms and have been in an at risk area or in contact with people who have coronavirus.

The RIVM has an interactive map showing where corona infections are being confirmed.

This article is based on expert views featured in the Volkskrant and NRC newspapers as well as the public health institute RIVM.

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