On Thursday Marco and I went for a long walk. It was a great day to do so – a day off and temperatures around 26C / 79F. It was a bit weird to be able to wear shorts and a t-shirt, but I loved it.
On the way back we found ourselves at the “back” of the bus platform at The Hague Centraal train station. I honestly didn’t even know there was a path back there. You learn something new every day!
The bus platform was remodeled last year so that the bus lanes were more easily accessible. Previously if you wanted the last bus you needed to cross every bus lane to get to it. Now if you want the last bus you only need to walk to the end of the pedestrian area and then cross over to your desired bus.
I will happily tag this post as “Spring” because the weather was just that good. Much better than the slightly grey, will it rain or won’t it sort of day that we had today.
The national train service NS has added additional measures by train stations in anticipation of the schedule returning to normal on 2 June. The delay of one day is because Monday, 1 June is a holiday here in The Netherlands.
Note: the schedule is returning to normal due to the expected increase of travelers, however the government still requests that people avoid public transportation when possible and instead take the car, bike or walk to their destination.
The latest measure related to the coronavirus situation is the use of one-way entrances and exits. As you can see in the photo above, you can only use every other door, depending on what side you’re on. There’s a lot of doors at the Centraal station, about 10 on each side. At least most of them are working these days… In the beginning at least half were defective. I wish I was joking!
Another common complaint after the station was remodeled was that it was really hard to see what was a door and what was a glass wall. I think most people are used to it these days although it still requires you to pay attention a little bit.
There’s also notes spray painted in the ground inside, although that’s been around since the beginning of the crisis, in some form or another. From the upper left it says ‘vermijd drukte’ (avoid busy areas, the rule that recently replaced the stay home as much as possible rule, ‘houd afstand’ (keep your distance), ‘was vaker je handen’ (wash your hands more often). In the middle is the main measure about keeping 1.5 meters distance from others, and at the bottom ‘voorkom €400 boete’ (avoid a €400 fine).
The NS train company have also recently added a ban of taking your bike with you in the train unless you have a special bike for medical purposes. They also temporarily removed the ‘Samenreiskorting’, a 40% discount when you travel with the train outside of peak hours with another person; this person must have either a season pass or a student product for you to qualify for the discount. Here is more information in English.
From 1 June you are required to wear a face mask in all public transportation. I’ve also seen information that only seats by the train window will be available for use, although this page (in Dutch) doesn’t say that directly. It does mention that you should only sit where green stickers are placed, however.
HTM, The Hague’s bus and tram service, is also working on new measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
This is also by The Hague Centraal station. As you can see, when you leave the tram you are required to exit to the right and walk along the path noted with arrows. Travellers who are waiting for the tram need to wait in the spots marked with blue or red stickers behind the line. The blue stickers show two feet and the red stickers have a QR code. Once everyone has exited the tram they will be allowed to move forward and enter the tram themselves. As The Hague Centraal is a rather busy area, there are workers present if you have questions (you can just see a man standing there in the upper left of the photo).
Back in mid-March HTM implemented a measure asking that travelers not use the button to open or close tram doors or to use the stop button to signal to the driver that they want to get off at the next stop. For the foreseeable future buses and trams will be stopping at every stop and opening every door so that travellers do not have to touch anything extra during the journey. As you can see above, there’s a sign on the tram door requesting that you do not press any buttons as it is no longer required.
It will definitely be interesting to see what the first week of June is like. At the same time that public transportation will be back to a normal schedule, restaurants will be re-opening with limited capacity as well.
The Dutch government announced during last week’s press conference that face masks would be required on public transportation from 1 June (information from rijksoverheid.nl in English and Dutch). By law you are not allowed to wear medical masks as those are needed for the hospitals and hard to find. Although I haven’t heard about fines if you do wear one (yet).
While we don’t have plans to use public transportation in the near future, you never know what emergencies can come up. A few days ago we also saw a sign on the window of the local Asian store saying they were selling face masks. I believe it was 10 face masks for €9 but don’t hold me to that.
It was the same small Asian store I mentioned a few days ago – it used to be known as ‘Amazing Oriental Markthof’ and is a few doors down from Simonis in the Stad and sandwiched between ‘Spicy Chicken’ (no joke, that’s the name – so creative) and LA American food.
It’s nothing special, but at least we’re prepared. Jaap van Dissel, head of the infectious diseases department at the public health institute RIVM admits that the use of face masks on public transportation is more of a political choice than a health choice: they only stop 5% to 10% of droplets from entering, and they let through anywhere from 40% to 80% of droplets during a cough or sneeze (article at DutchNews.nl).
But hey, it’s a small thing to do when public transportation can’t be avoided. So far my game plan has been to avoid it, though.
News articles had begun to appear in the last few days saying that the government would be shifting to a new phase of “what can you do” versus “what can’t you do” during these corona times. By yesterday it became apparent that the government would holding a press conference tonight, again with the prime minister and healthcare minister. As expected, a lot of the information leaked yesterday evening and today, so there weren’t too many surprises.
The usual rules stay in place (for example, keep 1.5 meters distance, sneeze and cough into your elbow, stay home if you’re feeling sick, wash your hands often, work as much as you can from home, etc.) The one big rule change in this new phase is “avoid busy areas as much as you can” as a replacement for “stay at home as much as you can”. Which I think is a huge shift already.
As already reported during the last press conference: elementary schools can open, daycares can open, children can exercise and partake in sporting activities outside (teenagers can as well, if they follow social distancing rules)
Adults are now allowed to partake in non-contact sporting activities outside as long as they follow social distancing rules and shower at home, with no games allowed
Most “contact” jobs are now allowed, including hairdressers, beauticians, driving instructors, acupuncturists, etc. Where possible social distancing rules are followed and appointments are always required, with clients and staff needing to confirm that neither are sick.
A bit of a shock: face masks are not required, but can be used if desired provided they are not medical face masks
Libraries are allowed to open, provided they follow social distancing rules and limit the rate of visitors accordingly
Only use public transportation if you must, and avoid rush hour. It is advised that you wear a non-medical face mask (with this becoming a requirement on 1 June due to the government expecting an increased amount of users by then).
Sometime in June
The government expects to be able to test anyone who asks for a test (they hope to allow this from 1 June, but cannot give a precise date yet)
From 1 June
Non-medical face masks are now a requirement in public transportation, and public transportation operators are required to have a full schedule by this date
Public transportation workers can request testing to make sure they don’t have the coronavirus
Medical face masks are not allowed as there is still a shortage of those in The Netherlands for healthcare workers
Outside terraces by restaurants can open again
Movie theaters, restaurants, cafes, museums and other cultural institutions can open, with reservations required and agreement between the client and staff that neither are sick; with a maximum of 30 visitors and staff combined at any one time
From 15 June
High schools can take exams
From 1 July
Public restrooms and showers can again open at camping areas and vacation parks
The maximum of 30 visitors for movie theaters, restaurants and similar is increased to 100 visitors
Church services, weddings and funerals of up to 100 visitors and staff are also allowed
From 1 September
Fitness clubs, saunas, wellness centers, coffee shops (drug shops) and casinos can open again
Contact sports and inside sporting is allowed, for everyone
Sporting events can again take place, but without public. This includes paid football games.
Around this time a decision will be made about events with lots of visitors, including festivals and concerts.
The prime minister was quick to caution that the above steps are only possible if the coronavirus is kept under control.
Another measure that people are quite interested in is the re-opening of schools. Scholen open of langer dicht? ‘Zelfs leerlingen beginnen school nu te missen’ (nos.nl, article in Dutch). The headline reads: Schools open, or closed for longer? Even students are beginning to miss school now. Yikes! Meivakantie (“May vacation”) begins next week, from 25 April to 3 May. After that… working parents everyone are looking for a break. If we see any change here, it might be the elementary schools opening first.
The other big one is whether or not restaurants will be fully open, rather than just open for takeout and delivery. This one I don’t expect to change any time soon. June at the earliest. However, that doesn’t mean restaurants can’t plan in the meantime. For instance, some restaurant owners on the Scheveningen beach have presented how they see life in the ‘1.5m society’: Strandtenten klaar voor serveren op anderhalve meter: ‘Zee aan ruimte’. (nos.nl, article in Dutch).
Work is another interesting dilemma, especially in the office – that one I can’t predict. I don’t think they are ready to lift the ‘work from home if you can’ advice, so I expect we will be working from home a bit longer. But perhaps they will remind businesses that now is the time to start thinking about how it will look in the future.
Metro is a free daily paper that is primarily distributed at train stations to commuters. It was started in 1999. As you might expect, all of their income comes from advertisements.
I was just thinking about them last week – I took a responsible social distancing walk to The Hague Centraal train station and spotted an empty Metro container. I remember thinking to myself that it made sense that there were no newspapers inside – there weren’t any commuters to be seen! The Netherlands has seen a roughly 85% drop in public transportation use since mid-March.
Because of this, the newspaper announced on March 19 (link in Dutch) that they would temporarily be stopping with the print edition of Metro. Yesterday they announced that they would be moving forward as a purely digital newspaper (link in Dutch).
It’s actually hard to imagine that the print version is gone. The best part about the paper was that it was free – because that meant people would leave it behind in the train when they were done reading it. That way the next bored person could have something to read as well!
Happy Friday everyone! ☀️ We made it to the weekend.
I would also like to give a shout to my mother who has an irregular job which is not only Monday-Friday – hope you’re getting some time off here and there!
It has now become routine to check the numbers from RIVM (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment) in the afternoon, as they release statistics about the coronavirus deaths and hospitalizations around 14:00 every day. They seem to have increased their server load in the last week or so as the site doesn’t freeze around that time anymore.
Note: The Netherlands has increased testing capacity in the last week, so the number of confirmed cases is going up due to that. They are now able to test healthcare workers outside of hospitals, including workers who work in home healthcare.
The statistics regarding ICU beds can be found at NICE (National Intensive Care Evaluation) although that page is not available in English. Daily numbers are released sometime after 16:00 each day. Also note the time stamp at the top of the page is whatever the time was when you visited the site, not the last time that it was updated. But keeping an eye on the ICU beds is important is this country as we needed to quickly increase our numbers to be able to handle the expected strain in the ICU.
In either case, the numbers aren’t complete yet as some hospitals send in their reports a day or two later. For example our country generally has a higher number of deaths on Tuesdays as they include deaths over the weekend and on Monday.
Here’s a photo from The Hague Centraal train station earlier this morning:
ProRail is responsible for the infrastructure and capacity of the rail transport lines, while NS (which I mention sometimes in this blog) is responsible for most, but not all, of the passenger transport in The Netherlands.
And a look at the current tram schedule at the train station:
At the moment, trams operate every 20 minutes during the day on a weekday and every half hour in the weekend.
The main railway operator in The Netherlands, the NS, has announced that from Saturday their trains would be running a ‘basic service’ schedule. This means that most stations will only have two trains per hour, except in cases where there was only one train per hour – that will stay the same. Most trains will be sprinters (stop at every station) with only a few important north/south and east/west lines having intercitys (stop at important stops only).
This was expected – on Friday public transportation usage dropped 50% in comparison with a normal day. From Monday there were 85% less travellers.
The picture above is of the tram tunnel underneath the Grote Marktstraat this past Saturday afternoon. There’s almost no one on the other side, which is unheard of even late at night.
HTM, the bus and tram service of The Hague has also published the changes that have occurred or will occur (information in Dutch). On Friday HTM began blocking off the first door for all buses and all trams where it was relevant. Travelers need to use a different door to enter and exit, in the hopes that contact between travelers and drivers is as limited as possible.
I’m a big fan of public transportation and love reading everything about HTM trams, so I just had to share the photo I made about the check-in/check-out machine in one of the local trams:
For years these machines display gibberish about 50% of the time. The machine should read IN/UIT- CHECKEN at this moment, which it… mostly… does. But about 15 seconds prior ‘CHECKEN’ was actually ‘SLURKEN’. I’m not sure why exactly, but one letter randomly changes here and there and random symbols appear on the sides.
Maybe it’s all just a big puzzle we are supposed to figure out.
The bus station at Den Haag Centraal is now ready for use! There’s still a bit of construction going on, but passengers can use the new area.
Here is how it used to look:
Note that the bus lanes are perpendicular from where passengers enter the area to catch a bus (so that the non-HTM buses tend to be all the way at the end, a bit of a walk).
And here is how it looks now:
This photo is taken from the entrance to the bus area. Now the bus lanes are parellel to the passenger, with large boards and information about departure times over each lane so that you can quickly see which bus lane you need to go to. There’s also a lot more light in the area, which is a huge contrast to the shadow-filled spaces the previous bus station had.
It’s definitely a welcome change to the previous version. If you have time and you’re in The Hague, go check it out!