The Netherlands and EU Health Nightmare | Jacob Lubbers Estrada
The European Union is the greatest project globalization has seen on the face of the earth: its 27 member states engage in free trade, easy-going trans-border crossings, and they have all reduced their sovereignty for the sake of giving more top-down management functions to Brussels. The EU-project is often defended because of the need to “preserve peace” and “protect freedoms” that Europeans lost during the Second World War. Yet, institutionalizing a new regime of (indirect) health totalitarianism is of no concern to the EU’s rulers. Once a continent which inspired the globe for its rationality, liberty, and respect for individuals’ rights, now Europe is following a path towards dangerous infringements of its citizens’ autonomy.
The Netherlands has traditionally been one of the beacons for freedom in Europe and the world. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, wherever freethinkers would be persecuted, they would be able to find a home in the Netherlands. The country, back-then called “the Republic” as it was the only country in Europe that was not being ruled by a monarch, was also where foreign activists could print their books that contradicted baseless claims of the omnipotent Church. Also, in the twentieth and twenty-first century the country would be known for its social progressiveness: ludic consumption of marihuana is allowed, prostitution is legal, and it was also the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. In the Netherlands, logical reasoning and a desperate love for freedom ruled.
All this changed in March 2020, with the arrival of the coronavirus. In that month, the decision was taken that, considering there was little information on this new virus and the frightening messages that were shown by the media and on the internet, a “smart lockdown” was necessary. This included social distancing, a shut-down of contact-based professions, and a prohibition of large events. It seemed reasonable, because the idea that was portrayed in that period of time was that COVID-19 was an extremely dangerous virus that would wipe out a big part of the population.
Time passed by and we got to learn more from the virus: its symptoms resemble the flu, people over the age of 65, obese people, and people with pre-existing conditions were at risk, but healthy people were not. Almost everyone would be able to struggle with COVID-19 by using their own immune system, without needing to rush to the hospital. Also, COVID-19 was mainly transmitted by aerosols and hence not necessarily if people stood close to each other, but rather if they were in small, closed spaces where no fresh air entered. Shutting down an entire country would be unnecessary if we looked at the severity of the virus. Yet, after years of cutting on healthcare by the neoliberal Rutte-administrations, the installed capacity of Dutch hospitals was minimal, and “measures” were required in order to minimize the pressure on Dutch hospitals’ Intensive Care Units (ICUs).
Fear and a desperate need for being “politically correct” imposed themselves on Dutch rulers. An even more severe lockdown followed in the winter of 2020-2021, with the forced shut-down of non-essential businesses, universities, schools, and even a curfew, the first one since the Second World War. Even though globally the lockdowns’ main purpose is to reduce deaths, its effects are counterproductive: researchers of the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research analyzed death rates between 43 different countries that either implemented lockdowns (for mitigating COVID-19) and countries that did not. Further, the researchers also brought this research to the U.S. state-levels by comparing those states that did not shut down with those that actually took measures to control the epidemiological outbreak. The results were – to put it mildly – shocking for our policymakers. According to this investigation, the longer the lockdowns, the higher the (general) excess mortality: the experts claim that for each week a lockdown is extended, there are 2.7 more deaths per populace of 100,000 than in a situation with no lockdown whatsoever. Despite the researchers were not able to provide a clear reason why lockdowns are (surprisingly) linked to higher excess mortality, they do refer to general criticisms of lockdowns, such as higher unemployment, higher stress, and anxiety rates due to social isolation, higher drug abuse, increasing suicide rates, and a reduction in access to preventive health services (like cancer screening). Moreover, the World Health Organization, in a 2019 report with guidelines on how countries should handle an epidemic, discourages locking healthy people up in their homes, regardless of the severity of the virus.
Also, some evidence on the use of medicines to help COVID-patients was ignored. Ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, and other medicines that could be useful to help COVID-patients were rejected to promote vaccinations in a later stage, despite, for example, Mexico City’s health authorities showed that the use of ivermectin reduced risks of hospitalization by 76%. Yet, arrogance and inflexibility became the norm of European and Dutch rulers: lockdowns were the only solution on the short-term and vaccines on the long-term for overcoming the crisis, they insisted.
The different vaccines were made in less than a year, building on previous research that was already going on for a longer time. The purpose of vaccines is to help boost your immune system in the case you get COVID-19, as to prevent hospitalization and also death.
Whilst vaccines might be necessary to protect the vulnerable populations, this is not the case for healthy (or non-vulnerable) people. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, no one knows for sure the long-term effects of these vaccines. There was no time for long-term, thorough research and despite long-term adverse effects are unlikely, that still does not mean they are ruled out. Secondly, a vaccinated person still can get coronavirus and infect others. Why should healthy people need to be vaccinated if they are not benefited themselves and also not their community? Lastly, viruses mutate, and therefore, vaccinating healthy people is useless if the vaccine they are receiving will not be able to defend the individual’s organism against other mutations. Yet, EU governments have decided to impose their vaccination agenda even onto perfectly healthy people.
Democracy at Stake
Democracy is not only going to the polls, voting, and your vote being respected. It also entails freedom of expression, freedom of thought, and also, the right to take decisions over your own life and body. These rights are, as of today, under threat in the Netherlands and other member states of the EU. Critics are being censured by Big Tech, governments are fomenting a division in society by ridiculing all free-thinkers, and the so-called two-tier societies have arrived in at least France, Greece, and Malta. France, the country which claims to promote liberty, equality, and fraternity, is now asking its citizens to show a vaccination or recovery proof, or negative Covid-test before entering several public spaces. It will also fire healthcare workers that are not willing to take a COVID-vaccine. Greece has announced similar measures and Malta will only receive tourists who have received their shots. In the Netherlands, as in other European countries, the government is forcing the non-vaccinated to take the vaccines by promoting peer pressure. Yet, governments insist that getting vaccinated remains “voluntary”.
George Orwell, a fierce critic of totalitarianism, noted that despite creating circumstances that force citizens to do or not do something, leaders will insist that their citizens are “free” to do whatever they want. In Animal Farm, a novel which describes a farm where the animals rebel against the farmer’s owners in order to build a more prosperous future for themselves, Orwell describes this well. The “smartest animals” and therefore the legitimate leaders, the pigs, decide in this story that the farm needs a windmill to increase production. The construction of this windmill requires a lot of manpower. Therefore, the “leader” of the animals, the pig Napoleon decides that all animals ought to work on Sundays as well, so the windmill is made as soon as possible. They were of course free to not do so, but if they did not want to, their food rations would simply be cut by half. Who cares about them receiving less food? They should just work hard for their community! Following the logic of Dutch, French, and other European authorities, the subordinate animals would still be perfectly free. In the current case of vaccines: who cares about healthy non-vaccinated individuals being prohibited from engaging in social life, right? These deplorables should just get the (experimental) vaccine for the sake of their community, despite they are perfectly healthy! The fact that COVID-19 is not dangerous for them, and a vaccine does not prevent further spread of the virus is irrelevant.
Moreover, for more than one year and a half Europeans have been lied to. They were promised that getting vaccinated was the only way out of the COVID-crisis. In the Netherlands, following this logic, all measures used to be linked to the occupation of the Intensive Care Units: in order to provide treatment to all COVID-patients, severe measures were legitimized. With more than 77% of adults having received at least one shot, and 46% of adults fully vaccinated as of July 14th (2021), the most vulnerable demographic groups (the elderly) are protected against the most severe symptoms of the coronavirus. Adhering to the “vaccines will save us all”-logic, this would guarantee that just a ridiculously small number of vulnerable persons would still end up in an ICU. Yet, after the number of cases increased drastically (and not the pressure on ICUs) after nightclubs re-opened, the Dutch cabinet decided to close nightclubs and force the catering industries’ businesses to close at 12am again. Why this change of variables to limit citizens’ rights? Why do citizens’ liberties need to be restricted if the most vulnerable populations are already vaccinated, and hence will less likely end up on the Intensive Care? The sudden change in variables which measures the extent to which citizens’ rights can be deprived is of high concern.
Further, a legal change recently approved by Dutch parliament is disturbing. In the Netherlands, the Law of Public Health distinguishes between four types of viruses: viruses of groups A, B1, B2, and C. Categorizing a virus as “group A” gives the government special faculties in order to restrict civilian rights (such as imposing curfews, forced quarantines, limited social gatherings, and so on) for controlling an epidemiological outbreak on the grounds that “public health” must be protected. While perhaps in February or March 2020 this decision would have made sense temporarily, nowadays it is not as COVID-19 is not as deadly as we thought before. An article published in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation shows us that the global Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) of COVID-19 is just 0.15%. However, other “group-A” viruses, such as Ebola and MERS have way higher death rates: 40% and 34%, respectively. So, it is not such a deadly virus as other “group A”-viruses. It is especially curious that Dutch parliament approved this bill when at least 77% of the Dutch were convinced to receive at least one dose of the vaccine already. The approval of this bill shows that the restrictions on civilians’ rights will continue, despite a large majority of people have received their shots, and therefore, also even though hospitals will not be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Our democracy and our rights are under attack, and just a small amount of people is aware of this.
This brings me to my next point: the stigmatization of critics. During the last year, Dutch opinion-makers, bureaucrats, the mainstream media, and other public figures have decided to start a campaign against politicians, activists, and civil society organizations that have had the courage to denounce this attack on individual rights. They are constantly being referred to as “wappies”, a degrading term which stands for “feeble-minded”. These “feeble-minded” also include doctors, sociologists, some prestigious journalists, and experts from other disciplines. The Dutch Minister of Health even stated that those of us who do not want to get a vaccine “have something of decadence”. Not even Hillary Clinton’s “half of Trump’s supporters are deplorables”-quote went half as far as the statement of the Dutch health-tzar. Consequently, whenever the number of infections rise, the “feeble-minded” will be blamed by the government and other obeying citizens for the continuation of COVID-restrictions, even though the little pressure on hospitals (the most important indicator) will remain steady as over 77% of adults will be fully vaccinated soon. Peer-pressure and the consequent polarization in society will be out of hand and make a lot of people reach a point in which they will decide, even though they do not want to, to get vaccinated. This also puts a pressure on individual liberty.
Isaiah Berlin made a distinction between two kinds of liberty: positive and negative liberty. An individual is negatively free when he does not face any obstacles or prohibitions to do something. In this case, individuals are free to not get vaccinated, because legally and physically nobody is forcing them to do so. However, there also exists positive liberty: this is the ability to make decisions and act based on your own reasoning, without being influenced by others and your environment. Following Berlin’s reasoning, Europeans are positively unfree: they are being forced to get vaccinated through the limitation of their rights, polarization, and constant hostile “incentives” they are provided with for doing so.
Normalizing the Abnormal
What has happened in the last year and a half – a dystopia come true – has been normalized. Yet, what is even more astonishing, is that some were able to foresee these developments already eleven years ago. Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development, a 2010 report of the Rockefeller Foundation, described several scenarios for the future and how society would respond to these different contexts. The scenario of a “global pandemic” was given the name Scenario Lockstep.
The report describes that worldwide, leaders would increase their power and impose certain obligations to its citizens, such as the mandatory wearing of facemasks and body temperature checks. Surprisingly, this will not be a temporary trend. Rather, Scenario Lock Step suggests that also in the post-pandemic world, this authoritarian rule will remain with us. The report states that “even after the pandemic faded, this more authoritarian control and oversight of citizens and their activities stuck and even intensified”. This is, for example, reflected in the Dutch parliament’s decision to catalogue COVID-19 as an “A-virus”, despite this implies unaccountable rule by the State, even though almost three out of four Dutch citizens are already “protected” with the vaccine.
The authors of the report foresaw in 2010 already that civilians would approve the centralization of power. It states the following: “Citizens willingly gave up some of their sovereignty—and their privacy—to more paternalistic states in exchange for greater safety and stability. Citizens were more tolerant, and even eager, for top-down direction and oversight, and national leaders had more latitude to impose order in the ways they saw fit.” Fiction reached reality and what was abnormal has been normalized. People post happily on social media their contribution to society after getting vaccinated for a virus that does not jeopardize their health; they applaud when governments enforce lockdowns that cost billions of euros to European entrepreneurs and working-class people; citizens support the violation of their fellow countrymen’s individual liberties; and they even cheer when our rulers ridicule those that are not willing to be talked down to.
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, a 1932 book, provides an interesting literate framework to look at all these developments. In his book, he argues, that future societies will increasingly technologize, which in turn, will put democracies at harm’s risk. This would be used to ensure stability, something that would be deemed incredibly important in the future Huxley foresaw. In the Brave New World, people would be programmed to not think and reason independently, but as they are ought to do and how others expect them to do by provoking an “‘instinctive’ hatred of books”. Huxley also foresaw that “correctness” would be of great importance in the future. In his story, the children received “moral education, which ought never, in any circumstances, to be rational.” This is, although to a lesser extent, what we see nowadays with news and opinions that challenge the status quo’s response to COVID-19: critics are put aside as “antisocial” or “socially unconscious jokers” that are not to be taken seriously, they face judicial and mediatic persecution, and, unfortunately, many people still allow this to happen, and even support these worrying tendencies.
Lastly, Huxley also predicted the emergence of hierarchically structured societies. In his book there are five different peoples: Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons. The “Alphas” are given more important tasks and more rights than those below them. Even though this distinction of society based on specific groups can also be interpreted as a class or religious division in other contexts, nowadays it is perfectly legitimate to draw a comparison with the two-tier societies of the vaccinated versus the non-vaccinated.
Despite the pessimistic context, there is reason for hope. An increasing number of civil society organizations are emerging in the Netherlands to address the inefficacy of mandatory vaccinations and general COVID-related restrictions. Parallelly, opinion-makers that in the past defended these measures are denouncing that it is time to take mental health of citizens into consideration and give them their liberty back if the vulnerable are immune to the virus. The lifting of all coronavirus-restrictions in England (also for the non-vaccinated) offers a message of hope and the final victory of liberty after the English protested several times to get their full freedom back. In France, after the de facto vaccine obligation was announced, thousands of covid-tired citizens took the streets and remembered us the most important principle of the French Revolution with their inspiring chant of “Liberté! Liberté! Liberté!” Hopefully, the emergence of this Revolution of Consciousness will soon expand to other European countries as well.
Therefore, it is time that all COVID-sceptics use their voices and engage in this discussion. While doing so, we should all stick to the facts and not fall into the temptation of alleging conspiracy theories or theories that might look like one, to make sure we are listened to and not confirm the notion of our adversaries that we are all feeble-minded. Moreover, let’s try to keep the level of the debate at a dignified level. On a recent anti-COVID-restriction protest in the Netherlands, some had the insensibility to compare the non-vaccinated to the victims of the Holocaust. Yes, we must defend our rights and liberties, but let’s not make unsubstantiated, tasteless claims that only damage our legitimacy.
Karl Marx said that the global proletariat were unfree and “prisoners” of the chains of the bourgeoisie, and therefore, had nothing to lose but those chains. In our contemporary Europe, individuals have a lot to lose if no action is taken against the power ambitions of our governing class: we must address this lack of accountability, lack of common sense, and ultimately, the destruction of the middle class that these constant cycles of lockdowns – that they want to make the new normal – imply.
The purpose of this article is not to discourage people that are at risk to get vaccinated: evidence shows that for high-risk groups the vaccine is key in reducing COVID-19-related lethality. But European rulers must understand that one thing is to promote vaccinations, and a totally different thing is to impose vaccinations onto (healthy) citizens. This remains a strictly personal decision and the right to personal autonomy can under no circumstances be violated or put under pressure, either directly or indirectly. Ironically, the EU loves to “correct” Orban for what are anti-European policies, but is not willing to exercise this kind of auto-critique on its own authoritarian handling of the coronavirus’ vaccinations.
Orwell and Huxley would be terrified of watching what kind of health-dystopia our continent has become. In honor of them, and thousands of Europeans that have sacrificed their lives to give us liberty, it is time to speak up. In Mexico, the proverb “nadie sabe lo que tiene hasta que lo pierde” is well-known, which stands for “no one knows what he has until he loses it” in Spanish. Personal liberty and autonomy are the most sacred goods Europeans have and were able to consolidate in the post-Second World War era. Let’s defend it before we must hand more of it in.