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New book shows impact of coronavirus on Leiden

Tuesday 7 September sees the release of the book ‘Plots stond het Leidse leven stil’ by Charlotte Boin, a freelance writer from Leiden. This book of interviews gives an impression of the turbulent effect of coronavirus on the lives of students, researchers and partners of Leiden University.

In the book the impact of the pandemic is seen from different perspectives. A few excerpts:

Sebe Myeni (senior researcher in Molecular Virology, LUMC)

Myeni saw her colleagues take refuge in their work as a way to deal with the uncertainty of the pandemic. ‘For many it was the only area they had any control over,’ she says. ‘It was a way to do your bit. For me it was reassuring to have a background where I could mean something for people. That was the reason why I got up every morning.’

Maarten Keulemans (alumnus and science journalist)

Keulemans is extremely critical of how the government communicated its coronavirus measures. ‘It was terribly bad. Really, really bad.’ PM Rutte and Health Minister De Jonge offered the conclusions without explaining the deliberations that had led to them. ‘Saying in a press conference, “OK folks, this is what we’re going to do,” that’s not communication. Communication is telling people your story and the deliberations you made.’ But the main problem, says Keulemans, is that science has been made political. By labelling the Outbreak Management Team’s advice ‘sacred’ early on, Rutte shifted the responsibility for the measures onto the scientists.

Martijn Ridderbos (Vice-Chairman of the Executive Board, Leiden University)

Ridderbos is keen to emphasise there have been some benefits from the pandemic. ‘To begin with that enormous sense of: yes, we can do this together. The togetherness. In a large organisation the tendency is to organise everything into silos and columns. The finance department does this; the teaching department that. In the crisis you couldn’t do that anymore. We showed that collaboration is a good thing. If you look over the walls around you and step outside the boxes, you can create something that would have been inconceivable if you’d stayed in that one building.’

Adriaan Veuger (biology student ) and Daan Yesilkagit (law student)

The lockdown was actually quite fun, sau Adriaan and Daan. They played boardgames and watched series. ‘That was fun for two weeks,’ says Veuger. ‘You’re shut up with each other and suddenly don’t have to do anything at all.’

Yesilkagit adds. ‘Then you soon realise: you can’t do anything at all.’ The strict isolation that the men placed themselves under and saw around received little media attention. Yesilkagit: ‘The only reports were about big student parties. But we didn’t have any parties. There was absolutely nothing.’

The book contains many more interviews. Leiden philosopher Bas Haring, Leiden Professor of Health Psychology Andrea Evers and former Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker and others give their view of the turbulent academic year that lies behind us.

Photos: Simone Both

‘Plots stond het Leidse leven stil’
Author: Charlotte Boin (1998)
ISBN 978 90 831 4311 8
Published by Verse Lucht

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