Over the past months, Rotterdam students organised two actions under the header ‘Students against Covid’: handing out flyers from a fishing net and distributing Covid containment sets in student houses. Today saw the start of a third drive – by students for students – to counter the spread of the virus. The need for these actions became clear over the summer, when the Netherlands saw a steep rise in infections in various communities – including students. The participating students didn’t just want to prevent the virus from spreading – they also wanted to correct the public perception of students as inveterate party animals.

‘Returning to a packed De Kuip – that’s what I’m doing it for.’ That’s one of the lines emblazoned on the new posters presented to Mayor Aboutaleb and the Chair of EUR’s Executive Board Ed Brinksma on Monday afternoon by Rotterdamse Kamer van Verenigingen (RKvV, the umbrella organisation of the local student associations). RKvV Chair Lotte van den Bergh: “The theme of the national campaign – ‘That’s what we’re doing it for’ – is intended to offer everyone a uniform perspective. And at the local level, each city is trying to reach its student body through personalised messages. We’re using Feyenoord, for example – which you won’t find on posters in Amsterdam, of course.”

'Every little bit helps'

Image credit: Milena Chopova

So far, Mayor Aboutaleb has attended each of the three official kick-offs. So why did he once again reserve time on his calendar for this drive? “Every little bit helps,” says the Mayor. While he can’t offer any concrete figures regarding infections among students, in general, Rotterdam isn’t doing too well compared to the rest of the region. “At the moment, we have around 650 infections a day in the city, and some people are acting as if that’s perfectly normal. But it isn’t. It’s good that people are raising awareness about the need to curb this spread – which is why I’m here today too.”

In contrast with the previous two actions, which were regional initiatives, this new drive is part of a national campaign. Van den Bergh: “This time, we’ll be putting up posters and flags across the city, in student houses and online, on the EUR website. These actions are part of a nationwide campaign that started last Wednesday, an initiative of the national organisation Landelijke Kamer van Verenigingen (LKvV, Dutch Chamber of Associations).”

Although the national campaign does take inspiration from regional efforts. LKvV inquired among its regional counterparts what was going on in their cities, and what they needed most. During the first phase of the campaign, students will be distributing posters and flags. Van den Bergh: “And we have other national actions waiting in the wings. Doing it nationwide maximises your reach.”

Rotterdam paving the way

Image credit: Milena Chopova

“You could say that students in Rotterdam paved the way with their actions over the past few months,” says Ed Brinksma, Chair of Erasmus University’s Executive Board. “I think it’s very positive that students have taken the initiative for this campaign. As a university community, we should take a unified stand against the increase in infections – and show students that it concerns them too. It’s great that they have taken the initiative to slow the spread of the virus. The incidents reported in the media are not representative of our community as a whole.”

Brinksma is unable to say at this point whether or not EUR will respond to the mounting number of infections in the Netherlands with stricter measures. “I know just as much as any well-informed citizen about possible measures that may or may not be on the horizon. For the moment, I haven’t heard any indications that universities should tighten their policies. But this could change – it depends on how the outbreak develops.”

The Mayor had also contracted Covid, but he is doing well again. He started displaying symptoms at the end of the day on which students launched their second action: the distribution of Covid containment sets. But he suspects he didn’t catch it there: “It must have been earlier. I do have to work to get fit over the next few months – so I’m jogging 10 km a day.”

Ed Brinksma, voorzitter van het CvB

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