Life in the Netherlands in the time of Covid-19

Life in the Netherlands in the time of Covid-19

We spoke to a few South Africans now living in the Netherlands about how Covid-19 has changed their life and what their new normal is.

Corona Virus
We are all currently experiencing the effects of a full lockdown in South Africa, but what is it like in the Netherlands, where they are in a state of semi-lockdown?

We spoke to a few South Africans who live in the Netherlands to find out how their lives have changed.

Felicia, 76

I've been living in the Netherlands for over 40 years. We've had our fair share of national disasters over the years. Then people took to the streets in demonstrations, silent marches, and strikes. But this, that our daily lives have been thrown into such a state that all public places, schools and other forms of communal activity have been shut down is unheard of. The Netherlands has been silenced.

I am one of the lucky ones in this period of self-isolation as I have family and neighbours to do my shopping. It's difficult to accept when you've always been independent, but that speaks for many of us. This is something we must take on ourselves to protect ourselves and the people who have to go out to work, no matter how frustrating it can be.

I've promised myself that I will not complain about the walking distance to the supermarket once this is over, but who knows how long that will last before the complaints start again. It feels as if your freedom has been taken away from you, and I do long for it to be over. The government has given good advice, but it remains for me and others to take the responsibility. Please let this end and go back to the bustling, exciting madness of this crazy city, Amsterdam.

Melanie, 48

Social distancing? Whoever heard of that before Covid-19. Now our shopping trips have turned into keeping 1.5m away from other customers in the shops, walking on the opposite side of the road if someone else is approaching or getting in at the back door of a bus or tram so you don't get too close to the driver.

With kids off from school it's become a bit more hectic trying to set them up in their rooms with laptops and Wi-Fi extenders so they can do online lessons. Teachers have been amazing with helping, especially for our high school daughter as she has proper lessons, tests and projects - all done virtually. For music practical, she has to play on her guitar while the teacher watches and listens.

The kids do miss their friends though. There are no shopping trips as most of the clothing stores are closed, no playing in the playground for my youngest boy - even though the government feels that it's OK for children to play together - the parents aren't convinced that corona won’t be spread that way. We have neighbours who are self-employed, whose businesses have now come to a standstill due to customer cancellations or in the food industry their business must close for a period of a few weeks. That's income lost and even though the government will give them €1,000 per month compensation, for many that's not enough to pay the bills.

We do try and socialise a bit by standing at our windows, always at least 1.5m away from neighbours, so we can have a bit of a normal conversation, even taking our cup of coffee or glass of wine with for a chat. This is our new normal I suppose.

Kaidin, 12

I think Covid-19 has done me good. It’s made me want to move around more, and I’ve started going on a 5km jog every day. But, on the other hand, I can't play with friends, so that's annoying, and I barely ever leave the house. It's just the same thing every day; wake up, have breakfast, start school, finish school, watch TV, go for a run and go to bed. I think a partial lockdown by the government is OK, cause I can then at least still go walk my dog.

Michael, 48

What impacted me most was not the virus itself, but the impact of it on the planet.

I'm concerned about how close the global economy is to a complete collapse. I'm also fascinated by how my priorities changed as soon as I was forced out of my routine.

Being in the technology field, I'm also amazed at how businesses and life has been able to carry on so easily and quickly with technology. Hopefully people will see that technology can be used to alleviate everyday problems like congestion on public transport and the ozone layer.

I think this is a time for a change in our behaviour and how we conduct business. How necessary is a school building really? And do we really need to contribute to pollution by travelling to big offices every day?

Monique, 35

I was in South Africa for two weeks for a family wedding at the beginning of March and returned home to Amsterdam on 11 March 2020. At that stage there were about 13 reported cases in SA, but in the Netherlands, it was rapidly increasing. We were ‘in the future’ of this pandemic. Behind China and Italy, but ahead of South Africa. I didn’t feel scared to travel but was acutely aware of the masks and not touching surfaces… and yet there were little to no measures taken at Schiphol airport. A mere two days later I realised how incredible the
timing of my holiday was.

I never made it back to working at the office as my team did a work from home ‘test day’ and that evening - 12 March - Rutte, our Prime Minister, announced the measures that the Netherlands should start taking. Places were closing, no gatherings of more than 100 people etc. I’ve worked from home ever since, and we were told it might last until the end of May. I’m lucky because I have a good setup at home already, and I don’t have children to home school or pets to entertain. My job as a digital designer, so for the most part, continued as normal. There have been quieter days as our clients had to restructure some requests, but unlike so many others, my income and workload did not change dramatically. For this I am immensely grateful.

Should our country have had a more extreme lockdown earlier? Probably. Today, 5 April, we’re sitting at 17,851 cases and 1,766 deaths. This makes me sad. Are we flattening the curve? I don’t know. On 15 March they closed gyms, studios and cafés. I remember feeling a deep sense of despair that the things that made me so happy were being taken away. For the betterment of everyone else and only temporarily, but still. It sucked.

We had literally just launched parkrun in the Netherlands, and two weeks later it shut down. Ironically, I have run more frequently than ever before. We are still ‘allowed’ out. And what a lifesaver that is! I try to go out for a little bit each day - a walk, a bike ride, a run, or to my local Albert Heijn grocery store early in the morning about once a week.

For two solid weeks I didn’t see any friends. I haven’t hugged or touched anyone for almost a month. Now I try to meet up with some friends in my building to go for ‘socially distant’ runs or dinners. We leave each other baked treats on the doormats. We are trying to be kind to one another. We all need it.

I’m still excited for weekends. I can happily spend hours alone, but I make sure I have some human (digital) contact every day. I’ve done a lot of sorting, painting, cleaning and deleting.

I’m also a bit tired of it all. Group calls can be draining. I don’t want to be online all the time for all the events. The lines between ‘work time’ and ‘home time’ are so blurred. I miss the social aspects of doing sport. I miss giving people hugs. I look at the numbers in the morning and try limit social media as it quickly turns into a downward spiral of despair. It’s strange to be so connected and affected by COVID-19 and have my Instagram friends in SA and America all be in the same boat. We’ve never truly experienced this kind of global event in our lifetime.

And yet, in a way I feel so far removed from it. I’ve stayed home. I’m not a doctor. I don’t even know anyone personally who got sick. I am counting my blessings. So much good has come from this time too. Like you, I’m looking forward to the day when this will all be over and we can go back to ‘normal’, but with a much deeper sense of gratitude and appreciation for the littlest but most significant thing… each other.

Kari, 42

This experience has introduced a time of great reflection. Four years ago, we made a conscious decision to leave our beloved sunny shores of South Africa behind, along with our family, friends and excellent medical system. Our goal wasn't to immigrate for the long-term, but rather to follow a career opportunity in The Netherlands, gain international experience, travel widely across Europe and move back this year. Now we’re uncertain if that will be possible.

Working in a global travel company in Amsterdam and being avid travellers ourselves, we've been following the progress of the coronavirus since January. We were anxious flying from Amsterdam to Marrakech mid-February but at that stage, the risk seemed low. Just two weeks later, the situation in Europe had become so serious, we had to cancel all upcoming trips and start planning for war-time scenarios.

Since Europe was already affected, we could anticipate what would happen back home. We were sad to cancel our annual flight to Cape Town to reconnect with our family and friends.

On one hand, my partner and I were worried about our parents, all in their seventies and vulnerable with health issues. We knew that a lockdown would be announced in South Africa and that our parents would potentially need help getting food and medicine. On the other hand, we had to consider the greater impact. We couldn't risk becoming infected and unknowingly contributing to the spread of the virus in South Africa, so we made the decision to stay in Amsterdam for now. Was it the right choice? It's hard to predict. There's a high chance we could lose our jobs, but despite what happens, we must sit tight here until flights are permitted between Amsterdam and Cape Town again.

Seeing Cyril Ramaphosa respond to the challenge so quickly and decisively makes me proud to be South African. I have no doubt the impact will be devastating but I have faith in our proactive medical system and Ramaphosa's leadership to minimise it as much as possible. I just hope that everyone pulls together to care for each other during this time.

To be honest, my daily life hasn’t changed much. Having developed chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) in the last 2 years and being on medication that impacts my immune system, most of my time is spent at home managing my energy and avoiding people with infectious illnesses. Many cases of CFS and myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) are thought to have been triggered by catching a virus. I’m curious if covid-19 will cause a spike in CFS and ME cases in the near future. There isn’t a confirmed cure and the symptoms can be debilitating to the point of being unable to work. That's what concerns me!

The CFS and ME topic is a big question mark in the CFS/ME community. We see the press reporting covid-19 infection and death figures along with questions like whether ordinary, non-infected people should wear masks, but nobody is asking... “What is the health impact really going to be on people who had covid-19 when this is all over?”

Jessica, 16

My daily life has changed quite a bit because of Covid-19. My school is now online, which I personally find better because I now spend more time on my school work than I would at school because of distractions. The transition to working online was not hard because we usually do independent working anyway.  

I also have more time, energy and motivation to do things like work-out and go for a run. I did have to stop working at Albert Heijn, a grocery store, because it didn't seem safe to spend so much time with people coming close to me and still having to touch everything since we weren't provided with gloves. It is a good break, but it does mean I don’t earn any money. 

I also don’t get to see my friends. We do video calls almost every day, but I miss getting bubble tea with them. 

I think that the government should do a full lockdown just so we can get this over with and carry on with our normal lives. We are already taking so many precautions that a full lockdown would only make a slight difference to our lives, but a big difference for the country.

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