Initial reports of the outbreak of a new disease in Wuhan reach the Netherlands. Although the virus is not thought to be easily transmissible from person to person, by the end of the month the WHO will declare an international emergency. TU Delft’s central crisis team has its first meeting in the course of January. If anything, this should be a good crisis exercise, it is still thought optimistically. First recommendations will soon follow, primarily focused on travel to or return from China. It is soon followed by advice to prevent the spread of the virus: wash your hands, sneeze into your elbow and use paper tissues.
The coronavirus is making its way through Europe. Preventive quarantine measures are put in place for returning travellers, first from China, later also from Italy, where a cluster of infections is reported on February 21. The first person infected in the Netherlands is reported on February 27, someone who has recently returned from Italy. Two days later the seventh reported infection is a TU Delft student, who has also just returned from Lombardy. Briefly, it looks like the campus will be the focus of attention, but events soon start unfolding rapidly.
Nation told not to shake hands
During the press conference on 9 March, Prime Minister Rutte urges the nation not to shake hands anymore, an advice he promptly ignores himself. A week earlier, TU Delft had already advised against shaking hands. Once again we are ahead of the national measures. International colleagues however, prompted by the situation in their home countries, are calling for stricter measures. The ever more stringent hygiene measures are giving our Facility Management colleagues their first major job of the crisis. There will be many more to come.
We all have to work from home
At the press conference on 12 March it becomes clear that the virus cannot be contained in the Netherlands either. Measures are being tightened: those with symptoms have to stay at home, events with more than 100 people are cancelled and we have to work from home whenever possible. This also affects TU Delft. Teaching staff tries to continue lectures and other educational activities online as much as possible, with the indispensable help of support staff. It is a huge undertaking, even for a university of technology with a great deal of experience in online education.
Start of the 'intelligent' lockdown
Stricter measures are coming into force day by day, and on 23 March, the Netherlands goes into lockdown. A week earlier, schools and childcare facilities had already been closed, although teachers and educational support workers are considered crucial professions and they may use emergency childcare. On 24 March, it is decided to cancel the central school leaving exams. This means automatic graduation for many school leavers who also have hardly any opportunities for a gap year abroad. It will lead to an eight percent rise in first-year students in September; at TU Delft this will be four percent.
Creation of COVID-19 response fund
A number of researchers and students focus on combating the consequences of the coronacrisis. They are working for example on emergency breathing apparatus or investigating whether face masks can be safely reused. To financially support this kind of research, the Delft University Fund sets up the TU Delft COVID-19 Response Fund on 31 March. Since then, more than 1600 alumni and organisations have contributed to the fund and over 410k euro has been awarded. Already 30 projects have received a contribution, including research on aerosols by Philomena Bluyssen, on the use of LEDs to fight viruses by Guoqi Zhang and on moral choices in times of corona by Caspar Chorus.
The first relaxations
Falling corona rates and more testing opportunities mean that our country can slowly reopen as of 1 June. The hospitality and culture sectors are allowed to open again under strict conditions. Everyone can get tested for the virus, and face masks in public transport are mandatory. Sports are allowed again on campus, and catering facilities are opening on a small scale. A lot of hard work is being undertaken to ensure that students can be safely welcomed back in the new academic year. Educational activities will be spread out over the day (between eight a.m. and eight p.m.) and divided over the buildings, so everyone should be able to enjoy some on-campus education.
Things are not going well (again)
After a relatively quiet summer, the virus is making a comeback and infection numbers are rising rapidly. New measures should limit the number of contact moments. Although the OWee took place largely online and the Opening Academic Year was held in the form of a game, students are being looked at askance. It turns out that many infections take place in student houses, where social distancing is difficult. To try and turn this tide, TU Delft students launch an information campaign with posters and a website. Over the months, the initiative will grow into a platform for actions aimed at the wellbeing of all people in Delft.
Despite increasing infection numbers, higher education is spared in the autumn, meaning that on-campus education remains possible to a limited extent. Until 15 December that is, when the Netherlands goes into a hard lockdown and almost all education has to be moved online again. It's a tough blow. Concerns for our students continue to grow. Not only do they miss out on an important part of their education the longer this lasts, but their mental wellbeing is also at stake. There are limits to what you can do online. The same goes for PhD candidates. Actually, we're all fed up with it. Home schooling again, everything closed again: it's going to be a difficult winter.
January 2021January 6
Start of the Dutch vaccination programme
In the new year, the start of the vaccination programme offers a first glimmer of hope. Over 70 percent of the Dutch population is in favour of a vaccination certificate that gives more freedom, according to research by Niek Mouter. Last spring, he already researched citizens' preferences for different exit scenarios. On campus, it is still eerily quiet. Only very limited educational activities, e.g. some practicals, are possible. Fortunately, since the start of the crisis, teachers have been doing everything in their power to ensure that practical education continues online, by doing a lot themselves with the help of robots, or by encouraging students to rise above themselves (article in Dutch only).
Curfew imposed from 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m.
On 23 January, the government takes the unprecedented decision of imposing a curfew. Everyone must stay inside between 9 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. Images of the ensuing riots travel the globe. A court ruling reversing the curfew seems to put a spanner in the works, but the curfew stays despite the riots and lawsuits. At TU Delft we breathe a sigh of relief that the starting time has been set at 21:00. An earlier time would have a caused a problem for our limited on-campus educational activities that are still spread over the day.
A few relaxations
The whole country eagerly awaits the press conference on February 23, but the growing fear of new corona variants means the majority of restrictions remain in place. Only a few relaxations are possible and even these are considered ‘a conscious risk.’ The only silver lining for students is that young people will be able to engage in outdoor sports again. For the universities, it's not enough. There’s no more give. The Association of Universities in the Netherlands, VSNU, urgently calls on the government to give more perspective to students and lecturers. On campus, TU Delft is expanding study places for students and investigating in pilot projects how physical education can be safely resumed.
Publication corona review
There is finally some light at the end of the tunnel. If infection numbers remain stable or decline, it may be possible for restaurants and bars to open outdoor seating areas by Easter. More importantly, higher education will hopefully be able to partially reopen by then as well. In the meantime, we have been under the yoke of Covid-19 for over a year. This brief review highlights some of the key moments, but is of course not exhaustive. Do you have an image that typifies the past year that you would like to share? Then submit your image using this form. We are very eager to hear about your experience.