Strong support for prime minister as the Dutch lockdown continues

Mark Rutte denies that ‘herd immunity’ was ever an active strategy

With the death toll from Covid-19 standing at 1,173 as of Wednesday afternoon, and confirmation that the Dutch lockdown will continue until the end of April at least, new polling has shown significant public support for prime minister Mark Rutte and his cabinet.

The extension of the lockdown means that restaurants, bars and clubs will remain closed until April 28th, schools will be shut until May 3rd because of holidays, and sports fixtures, including premier league (Eredivisie ) football, will remain cancelled until June 1st at the soonest.

Two of those who have died since the start of the outbreak were under 50, but both had serious underlying problems, the public health institute, RIVM, has revealed. In total, 13,614 people have tested positive for the virus and 5,159 have been hospitalised.

“The effects of the government’s measures do seem to be visible,” epidemiologist Jaap van Dissel, the RIVM’s spokesman, confirmed. Modelling of the disease was improving with new data and helping to make the medical response more effective.


Mr Rutte said that while he realised that asking the public to stick with the “intelligent lockdown” was difficult, the consensus was that pressure on hospitals and intensive care units left no option. “The good news is that there’s no need for additional measures,” he added.

Contrary to what appears to be a widespread international view that the Netherlands has been functioning more or less like Sweden, with restaurants, terraces and bars all still functioning, the contrary has been the case.

All of these have been shut down since mid-March or before, although some shops apart from supermarkets are still allowed to open, with the public and their owners expected to use a certain discretion. Otherwise, the message is the same as elsewhere: stay at home.

“We are aiming at a targeted lockdown, as required,” the prime minister said just over a week ago when he first used the term “intelligent lockdown”. “This is very little short of a total lockdown. You could call it an intelligent lockdown.”

‘Herd immunity’

Where the Rutte strategy has come in for most criticism has been over the issue of “herd immunity”, to which he referred a fortnight ago – the idea that a disease may be allowed to spread through a population at a controlled pace, thus building immunity.

As a result, the government was then accused of attempting to actively promote herd immunity rather than opting for a stricter lockdown which would inevitably be unpopular with the public.

Mr Rutte has since denied that “herd immunity” was ever an active strategy. Instead, he said, it was something that would inevitably happen as the virus spread.

In terms of public support, a new poll of polls shows Mr Rutte and his Liberal party gaining most during his stewardship of the crisis, with no gains for any other political party, including his coalition colleagues, the Christian Democrats, D66 or Christian Union.

The polling – an amalgam of research by four pollsters, I&O, Ipsos, Kantar and TV current affairs programme, EenVandaag – shows the Liberals up 3 per cent on two months ago, the equivalent of five seats in the 150-seat parliament.

The two far-right parties, who have both demanded a tougher lockdown, have lost out: The Forum for Democracy by 2.1 per cent (three seats), and Geert Wilders' Freedom Party by 0.9 per cent (one seat).

Separately, the I&O poll shows that 91 per cent support the lockdown, 75 per cent support the measures to shore up the economy, while support for the Rutte cabinet has leapt to 61 per cent from 42 per cent three weeks ago.

Breaking regulations

Not everyone is happy with the new government regulations, however.

Some 250 people have so far been fined for breaking the 1.5 metre social distancing rule. Three have been sentenced to jail for up to three months for coughing at police, while badly hit taxi drivers are angry they haven’t been included in compensation payments for businesses.

At sea, a Dutch submarine, MS Dolfijn, has been ordered home to quarantine from a patrol north of Scotland after 15 members of its 58-strong crew showed possible symptoms.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court