200317 Rutte
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte speaks during a televised address on the outbreak of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, as seen on national television in Utrecht, on March 16, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

Amsterdam: A large portion of the Dutch population will contract coronavirus in the coming months, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte cautioned on Monday, appealing to the country to pull together in the face of difficult times to come.

The Dutch government will do all it can to protect the vulnerable and support the economy, but it is imperative that people help each other, Rutte said in a rare live television address from his office in The Hague.

“The reality is a great number of the Dutch population will get sick, that is what experts tell us,” he said. “It will be a difficult time, but together we will pull through.” Rutte’s appeal came as the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) earlier on Monday said the number of confirmed coronavirus infections in the Netherlands had risen by 278 to 1,413 and the death toll by four to 24.

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The Netherlands imposed a wide array of restrictive measures on Sunday to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, including the closure of shops, schools, sport facilities and restaurants until April 6.

“In all this uncertainty, one thing is perfectly clear: the task we face is immense, and we have to do this with 17 million people,” he said. “Try to look after each other.”