The number of Covid patients in Dutch hospitals has reached the same high level as during the first wave of the pandemic, Rutte warned. ‘The fact is that people continue to die from Covid every day.’
He went on to acknowledge the hardships being suffered in other sections of society. He mentioned the hospitality industry and retail sector in particular, but also students in secondary and higher education. ‘Our patience is wearing thin, our emotions are running high.’
Nevertheless, the government has appealed to the general public to understand the need for the ongoing restrictions. Any easing of the current measures can only take place if the situation in the hospitals gives sufficient cause to do so. Once the green light is given, the government’s new plan for reopening society states that universities and universities of applied sciences will be the first to reopen, from 26 April. However, that decision will not be taken until next Tuesday, 20 April.
Student organisations LSVb and ISO have responded angrily to the government’s reservations. ‘The situation for young people is much too acute to delay reopening yet again’, says LSVb chair Lyle Muns, who has dismissed the postponement as unacceptable.
‘Being allowed to return to campus once a week is not a luxury, but an absolute necessity for students who have had nothing but online education for an entire year’, insists ISO chair Dahran Çoban. She believes the time has come for the government to deliver on its promise. ‘On 26 April, the online student has to return to the classroom.’
Face-to-face education has not come to a complete standstill. Students are already being allowed back to campus to sit exams. Vulnerable students can also receive in-person guidance, while practical training and lab work have been continuing on site.
As the prospect of reopening higher education comes into view, the government believes that home testing can be a useful tool. Students and teaching staff can obtain these tests free of charge in order to check whether they are infected.
Testing will not be mandatory. A recent pilot at Avans University of Applied Sciences has revealed that willingness to test was low among the student population. The pilot concluded that students needed some kind of incentive to encourage them to self-test on a regular basis.
Universities and universities of applied sciences believe that they should be permitted to open one day a week regardless of developments in the coming weeks. The virus may be spreading through illicit parties at student residences, but on-campus education has never been associated with a significant Covid outbreak.
‘We are still working on the assumption that, from 26 April we will have greater scope for face-to-face education’, says Pieter Duisenberg, President of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU). ‘This is something students badly need. We remain optimistic as we continue to work towards opening our universities once again.’