Tiptoe through Dutch tulips? Not in coronavirus crisis

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A sign asking people to observe social distancing and keep 1.5 meters, or five feet, apart to reduce the spread of the coronavirus was put up in a field of tulips in Lisse, Netherlands, Thursday, March 26, 2020. The world-renowned Dutch flower garden Keukenhof in Lisse will not open this year after the Dutch government extended its ban on gatherings to June 1 in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Instead of opening, it will allow people to virtually visit its colorful floral displays through its social media and online channels. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

LISSE, Netherlands (AP) — The manicured lawns and pathways winding the flower beds at the Keukenhof spring garden, normally crowded with thousands of visitors on any given sun-splashed spring day, were deserted Thursday.

A lonely worker pushed his wheelbarrow through the garden, carrying out maintenance even though nobody will be allowed to visit the Dutch park this season because of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

“It feels very bad, you can imagine,” said Keukenhof Director Bart Siemerink. “It really hurts. For all the gardeners, for all the people involved.”

In a normal year, there are plenty of people — some 1,300 — involved in grooming 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 to maintain the park to ensure it can reopen in 2021.

The Keukenhof’s annual eight-week opening, which usually attracts some 1.5 million visitors from more than 100 countries, was postponed last week, and on Wednesday canceled altogether. It’s not the only major Dutch tourist site that has fallen victim to the virus’ march across the world. The Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam are shuttered, and even the brothels in the city’s Red Light district have closed down.

Siemerink said he doesn’t intend to let all the Keukenhof preparations — 7 million bulbs were planted by hand for this year’s season — 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 films online and 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 said.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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