Coronavirus cases more than doubles to 82; MPs concerned over medical supply shortages

Dr. Milly Haverkort, an infectious diseases and internal medicine specialist, demonstrates a coronavirus exam at the GGD Kennemerland. February 2020.
Dr. Milly Haverkort, an infectious diseases and internal medicine specialist, demonstrates a coronavirus exam at the GGD Kennemerland. February 2020.Ministerie VWSMinisterie VWS

The number of patients in the Netherlands who tested positive for coronavirus jumped from 38 confirmed cases on Wednesday to 82 on Thursday, Dutch health authority RIVM said on Thursday. The new figures were released as the country faces more uncertainty over the organization of its large events and conferences, and some hospital workers continue to develop symptoms connected to the respiratory illness Covid-19.

"Of these, 69 patients were infected abroad or contacts from confirmed patients," the RIVM said. Two of the newly diagnosed patients were being treated in a hospital, while the rest were in home quarantine.

About 3,000 people in the Netherlands have been tested for coronavirus, a spokesperson for RIVM told NL Times. The number of people who were tested rose dramatically since Monday when fewer than 200 had been tested for the virus.

Investigators were still trying to determine the source of infection for several patients. The GGD public health service was already tracking down those who had close contact with the new patients to screen them for the virus, the RIVM stated.

Healthcare minister Bruno Bruins informed parliament of the increase as the data was simultaneously updated on a government website. He attributed a portion of the 44 new coronavirus patients to people who had symptoms in past days contacting their physicians and recording a positive test result. Bruins said the increase was in line with what the RIVM projected, and emphasized that testing will still be limited to those people who have either been in contact with an existing patient or traveled to a high-risk area, and have a fever, and have a respiratory ailment.

"The most important action for people who come from such a risk area and who develop mild airway complaints is to remain home, and see how the symptoms develop. If there is a fever with the symptoms, then report to the doctor," Bruins told parliament. The prevailing advice is to call the doctor, not to visit their office.

The Netherlands has the capability to treat between 1,000 and 1,200 in a managed isolated facility, according to RTL Nieuws. Beyond that, there will not be enough beds, doctors and nurses to treat them, a government report said after following a meeting between Bruins, Security and Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus and two dozen municipalities. 

"If the infections rise too quickly, there is insufficient capacity to properly treat the vulnerable," the report system.

The Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, debated the coronavirus and the Netherlands' response on Thursday prior to the RIVM's announcement. Multiple parties raised concerns about the availability about protective materials, like medical masks, and disinfectant gels, according to RTL Nieuws' live blog on the debate. "We get a lot of questions from general practitioners. I heard stories from GPs that they only have three masks. That is not the intention," ChristenUnie MP Carla Dik-Faber said. "I understand that protective equipment in hospitals suddenly disappear because patients take it with them. There must really be sufficient protective equipment."

The VVD praised Minister Bruno Bruins for Medical Care on how he and the health authorities are responding to the virus, but MP Hayke Veldman is also concerned about the availability of medical masks. "Professionals seem to be running out of masks." He wanted to know whether the Minister is willing to take far-reaching measures if necessary. For example, the French state plans to seize all stocks of medical masks in the country and monitor their production. That is a Draconian measure, the VVD MP said, but added: "We have to do what is necessary."

Far-right party PVV thinks the government is doing far too little to prevent further spread of the virus. "Why aren't we doing anything," MP Chris Jansen said in the debate, according to the broadcaster. He wants to stop flights from risk areas landing in the Netherlands, and that anyone who visited a risk area be quarantined for 14 days. "Ten million people can get infected. There is a total lack of sense of reality," he said. "If we don't take these measures, the time bomb will go off."

Other parties criticized the PVV for questioning the policy of the government and RIVM. The VVD and D66 stressed that it is also important to maintain calm and trust in the experts.