How has Mark Rutte performed during this crisis?

The novel Coronavirus or Covid-19 is by now the worst pandemic the world has faced in over half a century. After the first cases were reported in late December 2019 in Wuhan, China, the novel coronavirus has spread fast and wide, bringing the entire world to a standstill.

While every nation and government has responded differently to the outbreak, the Dutch Prime minister Mark Rutte chose to trust the country’s people by not sending everyone into quarantine. This would have caused mass hysteria, panic, a serious decline in the public’s mental health and have had an even worse effect on the economy. Instead, he ordered an ‘intelligent lockdown’, asking people to stay home as much as possible, while following perfectly reasonable rules when going out in public.

Even before the first case of Coronavirus was confirmed in the country, the government advised its citizens not to travel to areas affected by the virus. However, the advice came a little too late; just one day later, on 27 February, the first case of Covid-19 was reported in Tilburg. The next few days new cases were confirmed in Amsterdam, Delft and Rotterdam. By 5 March, the number of cases had reached 82, more than doubling from the day before.

On 9 March the total number of cases in the country was 321, with more than one-third reported in Noord-Brabant. On this day, Mark Rutte asked the citizens to stop shaking hands and asked the inhabitants of Noord-Brabant to work from home as much as possible. All large events in the province, including professional football, dance festivals, concerts and the scholarship program at the University of Eindhoven were cancelled.

By mid-March, the GGDs estimated that more than 6000 people in the Netherlands had been infected. Measures were tightened up. Schools, daycares, restaurants, cafes, sports clubs and saunas, were to stay closed until 6 April. Everyone who could was told to work from home.

On 16 March 2020, Rutte addressed the nation about the coronavirus. It was the first time a Dutch prime minister had addressed the nation since the 1973 oil crisis. That day Rutte showed what it means to be a true leader of a great nation. He spoke calmly and plainly; he didn’t sugarcoat the facts, but didn’t send people into panic either. He laid out all the options available and explained his and his advisors’ reasoning behind their choice of an intelligent lockdown. Rutte said in his speech “in a mature democracy like the Netherlands, with mature, proud people, you can only do this together. What does not work in the Netherlands is a government that says ‘you have to do this and you have to do that’.” He assured the nation that the government would do everything in its power to help its people in these trying times – and the nation believed him.

In late March, the government announced strict social distancing rules, all large gatherings and public events were canceled until 1 September. Companies and individuals who did not comply with the rules faced heavy fines of up to 4000 euros and 400 euros respectively.

It’s not for nothing that Mark Rutte’s support has risen to 75 percent since his speech. Only 8 percent of the Dutch show little or no confidence in the measures taken by the government. People really appreciate the fact that the measures are not as strict as in many other countries, where you need written permission and a very good reason to even step out of the house.

If anyone had any doubt in Rutte and his intelligent lockdown policy, they should look at the latest numbers of reported infections, hospitalizations and deaths: they are steadily declining. The results are encouraging enough for the administration to open primary schools from 11 May, with some precautions. All the others measures are, for now, extended until 20 May.

Yes, we couldn’t visit the tulip fields this year, and much to our dismay, were forced to celebrate one of the warmest King’s Days in years at home, but with a little perseverance we will soon enough be able to visit the beaches and theme parks, sit on the terrace of our favorite restaurant and, most importantly, hug and kiss our loved ones. Stay safe.

Written by Pryanka Sharma