Studenten

Covid changed how they see the world

Everything is different after the lockdown

Denise Overkleeft was never all that interested in politics, until her partner’s important MRI appointment was postponed. And Remco van Veluwen had his faith in humanity slowly eroded. Two student editors about the marks left by the covid restrictions.
By Remco van Veluwen and Denise Overkleeft / Photos by Anouk Brekhof
22 April om 15:57 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 April 2021
om 16:36 uur.
April 22 at 15:57 PM.
Last modified on April 22, 2021
at 16:36 PM.

Denise

Denise Overkleeft

I always thought Dutch politics were kind of boring, so I wasn’t very invested. During elections, I’d fill out a stemwijzer and vote accordingly. 

I’d prefer to observe. I tend to see both sides of the story, and I found it difficult to take up a position myself. I just wasn’t very involved. 

Politics didn’t seem to affect my personal life very much, either. The loans system had been implemented before my time, and the minimum drinking age of eighteen had been decided upon when I was still a child. I didn’t really have any opinions on, say, Rutte or Grapperhaus. They were in charge of the Dutch population, and this was fine with me.

Necessary

But then the corona restrictions came, and they affected my freedom and my life. I lost my job, couldn’t visit my sister in Belgium, and I couldn’t even go to the pub for a beer. Even though life as a student had suddenly lost a lot of its shine, I supported the actions. I felt Mark Rutte was a liberal who would do anything in his power to not harm the Dutch economy. He only implemented the most necessary of measures to alleviate pressure on the healthcare sector. 

Back then, I didn’t know they would just keep extending the measures as they saw fit. I also hadn’t realised how much my direct environment would be affected by the decisions made in The Hague. Walking through the streets of Groningen, I see empty buildings: shops and restaurants that failed. My friends keep telling that they’re sick of everything. Sick of life, almost. 

Recently, my twelve-year-old brother quietly admitted that he isn’t really learning anything from online school. His grades are plummeting, but there’s no more room in the in-school class for struggling students. The people in nursing homes are back to cuddling each other, but lecturers haven’t even been vaccinated yet.

Postponed scan

In the meantime, my partner, who is twenty-five years old, can’t go to the hospital. She’s paralysed in her right leg and eye, but her MRI scan was postponed by a few months due to covid. I had to watch her fall off her bike multiple times. It got so bad she got scared to even go outside. Fortunately, she was able to return to her home country of Greece, where they could see her straight away. It turns out she has MS. Her eyesight and mobility eventually returned, but because her care was postponed, she developed a permanent inflammation in her spine. 

Is that fair?

Who will defend my rights?

We know what we’re doing it for: alleviate the pressure on healthcare. In the meantime, the elderly, people who wouldn’t even be taken to hospital in case of emergency, are the first ones to get vaccinated. People are cheering on the end of excess mortality on social media, but this means the pressure on the healthcare system continues unabated. 

All the while, we’re forgoing extra investments in healthcare. After all, it has to be as efficient as possible. But the ageing population will largely affect the healthcare sector, resulting in a shortage in staff and equipment, as demographic research institute NIDI recently said. 

Doubts

I have my doubts about the government’s decisions. Are they taking the right things into consideration? Wouldn’t we be able to maintain social distancing measures better if we allowed people to have drink at outdoor cafés again? How come we can all go to the supermarket together while museums are empty? Politics is a game of compromises with winners and losers, but this particular round, I and most of the rest of the Netherlands were the losers.  

Who will defend my rights? Is there a politician whose ideas I can agree with? I’ve been reading up on Dutch policies and on the various parties’ viewpoints and actions. While many of my fellow students were up for election in the university elections or joining political youth parties, I am a late bloomer. Now, I actually participate in discussions with my friends. I have my own opinions and political preferences. 

Opinions

This pandemic has shaped my vision of Dutch politics, or rather, it gave rise to opinions that were long dormant. I know where I stand now. Politicians should focus on the quality of life, not the quantity of it. They should do everything to get education and healthcare back on the rails. 

The younger generations are paying the price, and who knows if we’ll ever be able to fix the damage done? They, that is to say, we, are the future population who will have to pay back the debt we are incurring right now, and we’ll have to pay for the elderly. Let’s not weaken the strongest people in this society.

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Remco van Veluwen

I still remember how it started. The realisation that this pandemic was a historic event was exciting. I kept up with the news, watched every single press conference. I’d always been interested in politics, but now my interest skyrocketed. 

I could feel the solidarity. These days the slogans are so ubiquitous as to be nearly nauseating, but back then, it truly felt like we were ‘in this together’. People were getting groceries for their neighbours, there was less pollution from car exhausts, healthcare workers were being thanked: my faith in humanity was high.

So I washed my hands until they were raw and crossed the street to avoid people. The concept of a lockdown was new, exciting. Never before had we been forced to stay at home. I barely questioned whether it was necessary and felt almost proud for obeying the rules so well. 

Useful

But over the course of the next few months, I started wondering if all these actions were even useful. I still obeyed the rules, but I kept getting into debates with my roommates about the point of the covid restrictions. It became increasingly difficult to motivate myself to attend online classes. 

I was worried by the increasing censorship and the fact that dissenters were dismissed as crazies. Should a democratic country like the Netherlands invite a good debate? I was also questioning most Dutch people’s attitude. I didn’t understand the apparent lack of criticism of policies that were clearly less than airtight.

I become more critical of the government’s one-sided course. Not a day went by without us complaining about another disappointment or setback. When we weren’t complaining, we gave in to our cynicism. Joking about our situation was the only way we could cope.  

What’s next?

Corona fatigue

I’ve accepted it. My interest in the news has made way for corona fatigue. I don’t watch the press conferences anymore. At most, I read a summary afterwards. All it does it depress me. I’d love to be able to lose track of time at night instead of having to keep an eye on the clock to make sure I don’t break curfew. 

I certainly don’t think covid-19 is ‘just the flu’

It might sound like I don’t take the virus seriously, but that’s not true. I still obey all the rules, and I certainly don’t think covid-19 is ‘just the flu’. I’m fortunate enough that no one in my direct environment has been seriously affected by the virus. I respect people who live under completely different circumstances who do worry about the virus. But I also wonder how much longer this lockdown is going to last, because I don’t think I can take it anymore. 

Silence

Our house now has an informal rule that we’re not allowed to talk about covid after 3 p.m. It’s barely needed: our cynicism has been replaced by silence. I find myself getting upset every once in a while, before realising that I don’t have much energy left to get really angry. 

It kind of scares me sometimes. How did it ever come to this? I miss adventure, spontaneity, exuberance. I really hope we can go back to normal soon, because this is no way to live.

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