Total coronavirus cases quadruple in a week to 4,204; Death toll reaches 179

People line up to enter DIY shop Praxis
A line to enter DIY shop Praxis in Amsterdam Oost, which allowed a maximum of 80 people inside at one time. March 21, 2020NL TimesNL Times

Some 43 coronavirus patients died in the Netherlands since Saturday, with the nation now mourning the loss of 179 people, public health agency RIVM said on Sunday. The agency also announced that another 573 tested positive for the virus, pushing the total number of diagnosed patients to 4,204, nearly four-times the number of patients recorded on March 15.

Just one week ago, the total number of patients in the Netherlands was 1,077. By that date, a total of 20 people who tested positive for the virus had died, a figure which has increased by 800 percent in the past seven days.

The dead ranged in age from 57 to 97, a change from the range of 63 to 95 years of age reported by the agency on Friday. 

Another 152 were identified as being treated in hospital since Saturday. The number of people that have required hospitalization since the first patient in the Netherlands was diagnosed in February equaled 988.

On Saturday, there were 354 people being treated in intensive care units across the Netherlands, which has 1,150 ICU beds in total. The government said the total number of ICU beds could be quickly scaled up to 1,500, and another 500 could be created by reallocating resources like ventilators present at various clinics.

Noord-Brabant again saw the biggest increase in people testing positive, with 224 new patients raising its total to 1,404. Zuid-Holland demonstrated an increase of 99 people testing positive there, bringing that province's total to 585, while Noord-Holland (535) showed an increase of 71 patients. Overall, the percentage of the country's total patients resident in Noord-Brabant sat at about 33 percent, a slight increase from Saturday's figures. Ten days ago, Noord-Brabant was home to about 45 percent of coronavirus patients.

With a global shortage of coronavirus test kits, and personnel limitations, the RIVM is mainly testing healthcare workers, the elderly, and those in a more vulnerable state. Last week, the agency told NL Times it was capable of testing about a thousand people daily, and was trying to find a way to test more people.

The new figures were released about two hours after a NL-Alert was issued to the entire public, urgently calling on them to maintain a safe distance of 150 centimeters from other people. The Alert was sent as thousands gathered at popular areas during the sunny weekend, causing crowds at nature reserves, parks, and the country's beaches, as well as at DIY stores. Politicians expressed irritation at the need to keep reminding people to stay home as much as possible and to keep a safe distance from others, with far right leader Geert Wilders calling for an immediate enforced lockdown.

Even RIVM director Jaap van Dissel said a lockdown was possible, and it fully depended on how people in the country behaved. He has been resistant to the idea of a lockdown speculating that it could lead to an increase in coronavirus cases in the future as opposed to the cases being spread out more evenly over time.

While this past week was mainly marked by rising infection figures and increasingly stringent measures against the virus, there were also signs of hope. Researchers from the Groningen University Medical Center are working on a possible medicine against the virus - they're trying to make two cheap and safe malaria medicines suitable for an inhaler, so that they can protect against infection deep in the airway. 

The university hospitals in Nijmegen and Utrecht are testing whether the tuberculosis vaccine can protect their healthcare workers against Covid-19. The TB vaccine boosts the immune system. The hope is that this boost will help fight off a coronavirus infection, or at least result in the course of the infection being milder. 

The Dutch government took delivery of nearly 700 thousand medical masks flown in to Schiphol Airport, and secured another 200 thousand domestically. Earlier in the week, KLM's partners in China - China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, and Xiamen Airlines - donated tens of thousands of medical masks to the Netherlands. A Xiamen Airlines plane landed at Schiphol on Wednesday morning with the first shipment of around 80 thousand masks and 50 thousand gloves.

By Friday, nearly 10 thousand retired healthcare workers and other professionals no longer working in the sector responded to the government's call to return for the crisis. NU'91, the organization for nurses and carers, called the response "overwhelming", according to NOS. More than a quarter of the people who registered are still officially registered as a healthcare provider in the so-called BIG register and can start working almost immediately. 

Netherlands residents are also finding ways to show solidarity with each other and support for the nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers during this crisis. Banners saying 'thank you' started showing up at hospitals throughout the country this week. On Tuesday evening, thousands of people, including the Royal family, gathered on their balconies and at their windows to applaud the healthcare workers in the country. Amsterdam residents gathered in their windows to sing together. On Wednesday, church bells throughout the country rang for 15 minutes as a "sign of hope"

Also on Friday, 183 radio stations in 31 countries played the song 'You'll Never Walk Alone' by Gerry and the Pacemakers at the same time, thanks to an initiative by Dutch 3FM DJ Sander Hoogendoorn. He wanted to emphasize solidarity in this time of social distancing.

And to make sure everyone is entertained during this time of isolation, telecom providers KPN and VodafoneZiggo decided to give their customers free access to television channels that are usually sold for an additional fee. And broadcaster NPO launched Zapplive Extra - a daily talk show for children with educational material and fun things to do.

Meanwhile, more of the country's cultural institutions bolstered their online content to educate children and adults alike. Dutch documentary film festival IDFA put 300 documentaries online for free, and another 500 online for up to five euros, while the cancelled Movies that Matter festival began putting their own program online for those interested in their curated human rights-focused content.

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