Are Dutch students thick as a plank?

Over the past couple of months plenty of news has emerged from North America about universities’ approaches to campus reopening and concerns about student behaviour.

But what of Europe? News from the Netherlands this evening is particularly interesting on this front.

Earlier this week the Dutch public health institute RIVM said that the number of infections in the Netherlands had almost doubled to 2,588 in the past week – and the national health board GGD warned that its job of tracing contacts is being made impossible by (often young) people refusing to follow the government’s Covid-19 guidelines. The Netherlands’ two biggest cities have large student populations, and the most new cases in recent weeks – and a quarter of new infections are being found in people aged 20 to 29.

So given it’s been six weeks since the last press conference on Covid-19, pressure was building all week on the PM to have some solutions up his sleeve – and amid all the usual moral panic about students and young people’s behaviour, yesterday sources started to brief the press that one of them would involve a crackdown on Freshers’ week.

At this evening’s press conference Rutte stopped short of ordering a complete ban – but he wasn’t far off. As well as demanding a general shutdown of bars, cinemas and museums that have had infected people in them, he announced some surprisingly detailed regs in relation to students – no social events at all in the first few weeks for a start. All intro week activities must be “informative” in nature, for example to brief students about the way the academic year will run.

HEIs will be ordered to run their introductory activities as much as possible online. Physical activities can only take place in small groups. Clubs and societies may only organise physical activities if necessary for the introduction of a study or sport. They must also be done in small groups, with an end time of no later than 22:00, and there will be a ban on alcohol for anything organised by an SU, a university or a student club or society.

Of course it’s not at all clear that cancelling controlled and supervised social events will do anything other than push those events into more dangerous contexts – but Rutte reckons he can win students over with his witty repartee. “If too many of you ignore the rules, we will all be stuck inside and you will be a danger to your grandparents and vulnerable people”, he said. “Coronavirus is not a joke, and if you act as if it is, you are as thick as a plank.”

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