“Bad news has been overwhelming us, and it makes sense that we are all starting to feel despondent. Nevertheless, there is also good news to report about the coronavirus. People are a lot more helpful than we thought, CO2 emissions are considerably less, and in China the virus is largely under control,” said Margriet magazine on 18 Marc. As negative news around the corona virus dominates, there has also been some positive debate in the Netherlands, such as increased solidarity among people, while there is potential for treatments and a vaccine.
Despite the continued fears for a second wave of the virus, reports in mid-March from China, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore increasingly revealed that virus-fighting strategies appear to be working. So, it seemed, not all news was bad. The European Central Bank (ECB) said it would provide monetary support to absorb economic blows across Europe, while the Dutch government too announced funding for affected companies and self-employed people. Newspaper Metro stated on 9 March that 62,000 corona patients have already been cured and that number is rising faster than the number of infections.
Antibody and vaccine research
With the reports about vaccine research in the US and Germany, came the scoop of a potential antibody from scientists from the Rotterdam Erasmus MC and Utrecht University. Although testing is likely to take months, professor of cell biology Frank Grosveld of the Erasmus MC, one of the discoverers of the antibody, told Business Insider Nederland: “We are now trying to get a pharmaceutical company on board that can produce the antibody on a large scale as a medicine.”
Other positive reports in March told of a tuberculosis vaccine that was being used on a large scale in Nijmegen’s Radboud University Medical Centre and the University Medical Centre Utrecht to help protect health workers. Furthermore, researchers from Sanquin, the organisation behind the Dutch blood banks, had started planning a national population screening to yield vital information on how widely the virus has spread and to what extent society is building immunity.
Experimental treatments already available
On 10 March, the Royal Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) indicated that chloroquine ─ a potential treatment that is widely available, easy to produce in large quantities, with little side effects and positive results in trials in China ─ is being administered in the Netherlands to Covid-19 patients who are moderately, severely or very seriously ill. Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) was also mentioned as a potential effective agent against symptoms. It was also reported that teams from the University of Groningen and the University Medical Centre Groningen are trying to make an existing drug suitable for administration via an inhaler.
The only way is up?
While news from China and other affected countries reported lower air pollution, there were reports in the Netherlands about an ‘extremely quiet evening rush hour’, and on 17 March nu.nl revealed that at supermarket distribution centres, some of the nation’s ‘superheroes’ are running at full speed to keep up with demand. Despite the need for social distancing, solidarity among people has increased, and on 17 March the nation celebrated health care workers by a minute-long applause.
Bram Bakker, a psychiatrist and publicist, argued on 13 March that “the greatest benefit of the pandemic is that we are forced to contemplate the way we live”. This reminds us of the famous words of ‘the country’s great philosopher’ Johan Cruijff that ‘every disadvantage has its advantage’. Bakker wondered whether ‘a crisis offers opportunities’, and argued that people now have the chance to look at how the situation can stimulate creativity and entrepreneurship. There will be possibilities opening up for more online working and video calling, and smart entrepreneurs will be given the incentive to develop products and services that are virus-resistant.
No one knows what is going to happen, but: “man is an ingenious animal, as will become clear now”, Bakker wrote. As negative news continues to roll in, some positives will too.
Edition 10 April, by Femke van Iperen