The Netherlands Is Letting a Lot of People Get Sick to Try to Beat Coronavirus

Even the coffee shops that sell weed are still open, although only for to-go orders.

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As most of the world practices social distancing, the Dutch are trying a different strategy to protect the vulnerable from the coronavirus: They’re aiming for so-called “herd immunity,” or what happens when enough people have survived the illness to effectively slow its spread.

“As we wait for a vaccine or medicine, we can slow down the virus spreading and at the same time build up herd immunity in a controlled manner,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said last week during an update on COVID-19, the contagious respiratory illness caused by the coronvirus.


Like a lot of other world leaders, Rutte is now in the business of calming his citizens down. But he’s also a pragmatist.

“The reality is also that in the coming period a large part of the population will be infected with the virus," he added.

So unlike the Italians or the French, the Dutch are not on lockdown. Schools and restaurants have been told to close, but strict social distancing hasn’t been imposed. People are still hanging out in parks. Even the coffee shops that sell weed are open, though now only for to-go orders.

The owner of one coffee shop in Tilburg, who goes by his nickname Meuk, told VICE News that in times like these, establishments like his are vital because they help people keep calm. But Meuk is still taking precautions.

“We have to keep distance — a one-and-a-half-metre distance. No more than four people in the take-away part. And we have to keep the surfaces clean,” Meuk said.

Bram, a customer who declined to give his full name, supports the Dutch approach.

“For me, so far, it's the best steps I've seen taken in the whole of Europe. Eventually, we all are gonna get this some sort of way. And with any virus, once you have it, your body starts building up an immunity. So I think that's the best thing to do.”

The Netherlands may be able to afford to try the unique approach because their healthcare system regularly tops European rankings. But they're not the only ones.

Last week, the U.K. government said 60% of the British population would have to get infected to build up herd immunity. With the best case scenario seeing mortality at 0.5-1%, the statement caused some to panic.

Unsurprisingly, the U.K. has now rolled back the policy.