Dutch PM: "stop shaking hands"; Coronavirus kills 4th, spreads to 100 municipalities

As the spread of coronavirus continued throughout the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte implored people in the country to stop shaking hands. He made the statement, along with new advice to Noord-Brabant residents to work from home whenever possible, hours after the country's top health agency released statistics that showed that there have been 321 positive tests and the patients live in 100 different municipalities.

​"We will stop shaking hands from today," he said at a press conference following an emergency cabinet meeting about coronavirus. "That is a simple measure that helps curb the coronavirus." He suggested tapping feet or bumping elbows as an alternative. "I ask you to pay close attention to the general hygiene measures that we can all take: washing hands more often than normal, sneezing into an elbow, and use paper tissues."

When asked if it was enough to combat the virus by simply telling people to stop shaking hands and wash up, Rutte pointed out that he is not a virologist. He said he will follow the recommendations of his advisors who are experts in this field. 

Rutte also said that even people living in Noord-Brabant who have no symptoms at all should work from home if possible. The exception is if they absolutely have to be physically present, like for a manufacturing job or a teaching position. This in addition to the existing advice in Noord-Brabant, that anyone who has even the slightest fever or cough stay home regardless of if they have had contact with a coronavirus patient or have been in an area where the virus is wide spread.

RIVM director Jaap van Dissel, standing alongside Rutte, said that there was no reason for the Netherlands to follow Italy's example and put Noord-Brabant on lock-down. He said the country is managing the situation well and using the available information "so we can take proportionate measures."

"I have great appreciation for how people have dealt with it in Brabant up to now," Rutte said during the press conference, which was broadcast live to the Dutch public.

He then ended the press conference, turned to his left, and went to shake Van Dissel's hand. "Oh sorry, that is no longer allowed," he said with an embarrassed laugh. "It's such a habit!" he quipped, as the events attendees laughted. Rutte then put his arm around Van Dissel, and the two walked out.

Fourth death from coronavirus as cases spike in Tilburg patients

Noord-Brabant is the hardest hit province in the Netherlands. Of the 320 positive tests where the patient's hometown was revealed, 135 resided most recently in Noord-Brabant.

Among them, an older person residing in a care home in Goirle, Noord-Brabant was diagnosed with the Covid-19 strain of the virus. He died in a hospital in Tilburg on Monday, Goirle Mayor Mark van Stappershoef said. "I can say that the victim was old and was in vulnerable health. All this, of course, does not make it any less sad for the relatives. I wish them much strength in this difficult time."

Noord-Brabant has had substantially more positive test cases than any other province. The next highest were Utrecht with 52, Zuid-Holland with 37, and Gelderland with 27. Limburg and Noord-Holland each had 23 cases where a resident tested positive, Drenthe and Overijssel each had ten, Flevoland had two, and Zeeland had one.

The number of patients in Tilburg more than doubled in the past 24 hours, increasing from 12 to 27. It surpassed Breda, which went up from 16 to 19. Broken down by municipality, ten of the top 20 sorted by patient residences were located in Noord-Brabant.

  1. Tilburg, Noord-Brabant : 27
  2. Breda, Noord-Brabant : 19
  3. Rotterdam, Zuid-Holland : 14
  4. Houten, Utrecht : 13
  5. Utrecht, Utrecht : 13
  6. Uden, Noord-Brabant : 12
  7. Meierijstad, Noord-Brabant : 10
  8. Coevorden, Drenthe : 9
  9. Sittard-Geleen, Limburg : 8
  10. Eindhoven, Noord-Brabant : 7
  11. Helmond, Noord-Brabant : 7
  12. Loon op Zand, Noord-Brabant : 7
  13. Soest, Utrecht : 7
  14. De Bilt, Utrecht : 6
  15. Maastricht, Limburg : 6
  16. Renkum, Gelderland : 5
  17. Sint-Michielsgestel, Noord-Brabant : 5
  18. Stichtse Vecht, Utrecht : 5
  19. Waalwijk, Noord-Brabant : 5
  20. Altena, Noord-Brabant : 4