Students impose quarantine on themselves
Many large student houses are making their own rules to combat corona. Remarkably, these rules are often stricter than the government’s guidelines and range from wiping door handles and wearing gloves on public transport to voluntary quarantine.
Susan Wichgers
Friday 20 March 2020
Minerva house Het Wallon (Rapenburg 12), occupied by 36 men. Their only rule is: no one goes in and no one goes out, only to the supermarket for shopping.Photo by Arie Kievit

On a sunny afternoon, some ten occupants of Hooigracht 79 are sitting on the pavement in front of their student house, drinking beer in the sun. It looks as if they’re not worried about the coronavirus at all, but in fact they are.

Normally around this hour, the 19 housemate would be heading off to for dinner at their clubs, Augustinus and Quintus, or with their year groups, or groups of friends would be arriving at their door. However, since the safety measures imposed last week, they have all decided that they should refrain from those activities for a while.

“No more than six non-occupants are allowed in the house at the same time”, explain Julie Kulsen (20, Law and Political Science). “If you do have someone round, you have to report them and where they come from.”

Gloves on public transport

On arrival, all students must disinfect their hands; there is a bottle of hand sanitizer next to the front door. The occupants go to the supermarket on the corner as little as possible and don’t travel unnecessarily. “For instance, I’m from Brabant so I won’t be popping home any time soon”, Kulsen continues. “After all, if one person falls ill here, it will spread very quickly.”

“We invite as few people round as possible”

Physics student Sharif el Tambouli (21) drops by a little later – he lives round the corner on Herengracht with 34 other people, where they have new rules too.

“In theory, we invite as few people round as possible”, El Tambouli says. “We’re allowed to have people back to our rooms: that’s our own responsibility.” Two people in his house are ill, so they are staying in their rooms. “It’s partly for our own protection, but we want to behave responsibly too: we don’t want to be spreaders.”

Lists of rules from other houses are circulating on various Whatsapp groups. Some houses are very strict (“gloves on public transport, clean clothes when you get home”), others are milder, but at least every student house has thought about the virus and discussed it.

Not being daft

Another example is Minerva house Het Wallon (Rapenburg 12), occupied by 36 men. They have been rigorous, explains occupant Pepijn Heemskerk (23, Systems Engineering, Policy Analysis and Management). Their only rule is: no one goes in and no one goes out, only to the supermarket for shopping.

 “At first I thought it was very strict, but now I agree with it”, Heemskerk adds. “The measures imposed by the government apply to families, which is a totally different situation. Students have far more contacts. I hope that other houses realise that, and don’t tell everyone we’re just being daft.”

Students of Hooigracht 79 are sitting in front of their house, drinking beer in the sun and playing 'beer basketball'. Photo by Taco van der Eb

They imposed a quarantine on themselves on Sunday and even their love lives are on a back burner. “Fifteen of us have girlfriends and they live in student houses too”, Heemskerk continues. “So it would spread very quickly. There are 36 of us here, so we have plenty of company.”

Casper Koolmees (23, Linguistics) lives in Quintus house Oude Singel 58 with 27 occupants, where the rules are much milder. “People aren’t allowed to smoke in other houses anymore”, he has heard. He laughs: “We’ve skipped that rule for now.”

On Monday evening, they – a small group of six housemates – held a meeting about their new rules. “We agreed that you can have only one guest, preferably the same person, and that we’ll avoid large gatherings.”

In addition, they have some hygiene rules: wash your hands when you get home, clean the door handles, loos and taps every day, don’t share cutlery. If someone is ill, he must stay in his room, which means that one occupant has already been self-isolating for a week.

Boxing and bingo

“We heard him cough and thought: here we go”, Koolmees recalls. “But he didn’t have a fever and he just stayed in his room. We do his shopping.”

The rules were necessary, in Koolmees’ view. “There were people who came in, didn’t wash their hands and then went and hugged someone. If you have a rule, you can call them out immediately.”

The students are not frightened of catching the virus. Koolmees: “We concerned about vulnerable people. I’m assuming I’ll get it anyway, but I want to avoid spreading it.”

“I’m assuming I’ll get it anyway, but I want to avoid spreading it”

Heemskerk in Het Wallon agrees that it’s not really about being ill. “We particularly frightened of infecting older and vulnerable people who are really affected by the virus. Why shouldn’t we do our best to prevent that? We’ve had some interesting discussions here, but now everyone agrees.”

Unless something changes, they will stick to the rules until 6 April. They are not worried about boredom. In the courtyard, the occupants are boxing with each other and they have ordered a bingo set. “It’s forcing us to be creative”, Heemskerk smiles. “After a bit, television gets boring.”