"I'm counting on you": Dutch PM asks country to unite in fight against coronavirus

The NL Times also published a translation of the full text of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s address to the nation.

In the country's first national address by a prime minister in over 40 years, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte laid out three possible scenarios that affect how the coronavirus pandemic will impact the Netherlands, pledged his support for workers and all business owners, and asked that the country unite to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control. The preference, he said, is a scenario where the country spreads out the rate of infection as much as possible, and he emphasized that the country must take action together to prevent two more-dangerous scenarios from occurring.

"Many people will recognize the feeling that we have been on a rollercoaster in recent weeks that seems to be going faster and faster," Rutte stated towards the beginning of his ten-minute address to the nation. "Because the measures taken here and elsewhere are unprecedented for countries in peacetime.

He said the second of the three scenarios is a situation where the virus has a rampant, rapid spread, which he said was very dangerous especially for people in vulnerable health. "We must prevent that at all cost," he said. The last scenario would see the company on a complete and total lockdown for as much as a year.

"It won't take days, or weeks," he said of that drastic vision. He laid the scenarios out to dissuade people from thinking that as a population the Netherlands can quickly build up a controlled herd immunity.

"But we must realize that it can take months or even longer to build group immunity, and during that time we need to shield people at greater risk as much as possible," Rutte said.

Thus, to be able to control the spread of the virus, he advocated, "that we try to use measures to smooth out the peak number of infections, and spread it out over a longer period. With this approach in which most people will only get minor complaints, we build immunity and ensure that the healthcare system can handle it."

The goal, he said, was to limit the impact as much as possible on nursing homes, in-home patient care, hospitals, and intensive care units, and prevent them from becoming overloaded. It is a contrast to his second scenario, where those healthcare systems are completely overloaded with a full peak of infected patients, leaving too little capacity to treat "the frail elderly and other high-risk patients."

He said completely locking-down the Netherlands was the wrong direction. "Such a rigorous approach may seem attractive at first sight, but experts point out that it would certainly not be a matter of days or weeks. In that scenario, we would actually have to shut down our country for a year or even longer, with all its consequences," he said.

Rutte asked that despite the turmoil, people continue doing whatever possible to help each other. "It is a time to put the common interest above the personal interest."

"The task is great. We must accomplish this with all 17 million people. Together, we will overcome this. Pay some attention to each other. I'm counting on you."

The Prime Minister also turned his attention to the plight of businesses and business owners in the country, pledging, "The cabinet will do what it takes to support you." It was an important statement to thousands of entrepreneurs and single-person businesses who felt betrayed by Eric Wiebes, the Minister of Economic Affairs, who effectively told freelancers and small business owners that they made their own choices and cannot rely on the government to expand every program to assist them. 

"Many entrepreneurs suddenly have their backs against the wall. The lady at the coffee shop on the corner, the flower grower, the transportation operator, the freelancer, but it also applies to national icons such as KLM," he said. "We are committed to ensuring that businesses do not topple because of what is happening now, and that people are not losing their jobs," he continued.

"Either way, it will be a difficult time, but we will not let you down," he said of himself and his ruling Cabinet.

The first Covid-19 diagnosis in the Netherlands was made on Thursday, February 27. In the two and a half weeks since then, the number of infections jumped to 1,413 on Monday. Noord-Brabant was the province hit hardest by the virus counting 554 of the total infections on Monday. And as such the first stringent measures against its spread were implemented there. Noord-Brabant residents were called to stay at home with even mild cold- or flu-like symptoms, work from home as much as possible, and cancel large events.

As the virus continued to spread throughout the Netherlands, these measures were extended to apply to the entire country on Thursday, March 12. On Sunday, March 15, the government announced even stricter measures, ordering that schools, daycare institutions, and a large number of businesses close their doors until at least April 6. 

This was the first time since the oil crisis in the 1970s that a Dutch Prime Minister directly addressed the nation.