Why is coronavirus spreading so quickly through the Netherlands?

The Netherlands ranks 69th in the world when it comes to land mass. But when it comes to the country with the highest coronavirus cases, it ranks 12th worldwide. So what exactly has made coronavirus spread so quickly in the Netherlands?

For such a small country, it’s not only interesting that the mortality rate for coronavirus cases is high, but also that the number of infected people is so high (over 20,000 as of today- the total is even higher as not all people infected report their symptoms or get tested).

But the spread of the virus has wider implications. Already, Germany has named the Netherlands as an “International Risk Area,” which means that the spread of coronavirus in the Netherlands could propel the spread of the virus globally.

Today we’re jumping in and investigating why the Netherlands has become a coronavirus hotspot.

Population density

Something to keep in mind is population density, which refers to how many people are in a given unit of an area. The Netherlands has a high population density. And you can tell. I mean, have you ever tried walking through the centre of Amsterdam in the pre-corona era?

In the Netherlands, the population density is 508 per km2. In comparison, the population density of the UK is 281 per km2. This means that the Netherlands has on average twice as many people living in its space than the UK does.

In fact, the population density of the Netherlands is even more than that of China as well as India (which have 153 per km2 and 464 per km2 respectively).

Why is population density important?

According to Peter Daszak, the president of Eco Health Alliance and a disease ecologist, who studied the link between the risk of pandemic and human population density, “there’s a strong correlation” between population density and the spread of illnesses. 

Of course, a densely populated region has its advantages in times of crisis. Hospital emergency response times are faster, there are many stores to pick up essentials, transport is easier, and so on. This is because there are more people around in a given space to make use of these utilities. But in terms of the spread of coronavirus, the closer in proximity people are to one another, the faster the virus will spread.

Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York illustrated this view in a tweet:

That’s why social distancing measures have been implemented across the world.

In a densely populated place, there’s a higher chance of coming in contact with someone who has the virus. If people cough or sneeze, the droplets they release into the air have a chance of infecting you. Of course, the proximity between people must be close for this to happen. And if you touch surfaces that have traces of the virus and you touch your face, you also have a chance of contracting it.

It ultimately comes down to the fact that more people means easier (and more) transmission.

The Netherlands is a popular travel destination

Another thing to note is that the Netherlands is a travel hub. In 2017, 17.6 million tourists and business people visited the country. That’s equivalent to, well, the entire population of the Netherlands. And of course, given its enormous foreign student population, the Netherlands is fairly multicultural.

Given the spread of the virus, you have people travelling to the country from other parts of the world who could potentially be carrying it with them.

And once one person has it, it’s easy for others around them to be infected- which is how the virus has spread around the world with such rapidity.

Public transport within the country

Additionally, public transport in the Netherlands is, as much as we complain about it, generally pretty good. But this also means that you’re moving from place to place, in a confined space with lots of different people, where you’re touching different surfaces, thereby facilitating the transfer of the virus more easily, maybe even unknowingly. That’s why it’s so important to refrain from going here and there — there’s a reason measures are in place, and it took a while for people to take them seriously.

The problem with looking at numbers

On a side note, it should also be kept in mind that the numbers you see are not always easily comparable to each other (i.e. comparable to that of other countries) and may not always be entirely accurate.

For instance, the Netherlands has a seemingly high mortality rate but this is due to a number of factors including a delay in reporting deaths, emphasis on palliative care and may therefore differ in methodology from other countries. We’ve written about the mortality rate in the Netherlands in greater depth.

In terms of the spread of coronavirus, the RIVM reports the latest coronavirus figures in the Netherlands, but notes that the actual number of infections is higher than the reported number, as not all people displaying symptoms are tested for the virus (and even more may not have noticeable symptoms at all).

Thus, it may be difficult to compare how the virus is spreading through the Netherlands to other countries.

Government measures

Initially, it took a while for the government-imposed social distancing measures to enter into force. Then it took a while for people to adjust to them, as initially they weren’t taken as seriously. So potentially that’s why the first two weeks of coronavirus cases were increasing at such a rapid rate.

Overall, many factors could have propagated the spread of the virus across the country, including population density, travel both to and within the country and adjustment to social distancing measures.

What other factors may have contributed to the spread of coronavirus in the Netherlands? Let us know in the comments below.

Feature Image: DutchReview/Canva

Vedika Luthra
Vedika Luthrahttp://hotchocolatehits.com
Vedika was born in India, raised in Poland and moved to the Netherlands to study. Like her nationality, she’s confused about what she likes most, which is why her bachelor’s degree was in liberal arts and sciences. She enjoys writing about all things food-related but likes to mix it up every now and then.


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