Iconic tulips in bloom but visitors are kept away

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Tulip fields dot the countryside from Haarlem to The Hague, but the centrepiece of tulip-watching is Keukenhof park, located in Lisse, some 20 miles southeast of Amsterdam. 

The manicured lawns and pathways winding between the flower beds are normally crowded with thousands of visitors on any given sunny spring day.

But now they are deserted.

The Keukenhof’s annual eight-week opening, which usually attracts some 1.5 million visitors from more than 100 countries worldwide, was postponed last week and on Wednesday cancelled altogether due to the spread of the new coronavirus. 

Last week the Dutch government announced that a limited lockdown will last till June 1, at the end of the tulip season, to try to slow the rate of infection. 

Yesterday (Wednesday), Keukenhof decided not to open its gates to visitors.

“It really hurts. For all the gardeners, for all the people involved, and that’s within Keukenhof staff, but also for all the people involved in the catering, in the parking lots, in the shops. A lot of people are affected by the situation that we have today,” says Keukenhof Director, Bart Siemerink. 

In a normal year, there are plenty of people — some 1,300 — involved in maintaining the garden, working in stores and restaurants and maintaining order in the busy parking lot.

But this is not a normal year, and now only about 40-50 staff are working here to ensure it can reopen in 2021.

Gardeners begin planting the nearly 80 acres with over 7 million tulips, daffodils and hyacinths in mid-September to prepare for the yearly eight-week spectacle that normally runs for a period spanning from mid-March through to mid-May. 

The hand-planting by 40 gardeners takes three months. 

It’s not the only major Dutch tourist site that has fallen victim to the virus. The Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam are shuttered, even the brothels in the Red Light district have closed down.

Siemerink says he doesn’t intend to let all the Keukenhof preparations go to waste.

Instead of welcoming real guests, the park intends to showcase itself online — a sort of virtual tiptoe through the tulips.

Siemerink is now working on a project aimed at broadcasting live video online in partnership with television stations in the Netherlands, Germany and Britain.

“If people cannot come to Keukenhof, we will bring Keukenhof to the people at home,” he says.

In nearby roadside flower shops, there are no tourists this year to buy the country’s iconic blooms. 

Jacquline de Mooi, who runs one of the stores, explains that they had to discard a lot of tulips because they can’t export them.  

“We are trying to sell flowers to locals and in that way let them also enjoy our flowers.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

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