Coronavirus patient total rises to 188; Concern for "irresponsible" students back from Italy

Stock image of a doctor with a blood sample tested for coronavirus
Stock image of a doctor with a blood sample tested for coronavirus bestravelvideoDepositPhotosDeposit Photos

Sixty more people in the Netherlands tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total numver of cases in that country to 188. Forty percent of the new patients, 24, reside in the Noord-Brabant province.

The numbers, provided by health agency RIVM, were expected to show a higher number of cases in Noord-Brabant, where the prevailing health advice is for anyone who lives in the province and has even a mild fever or minor cough to stay home. The reason being that investigators traced the source of infection for several patients to the province, and for many others it was difficult to determine how they became infected.

The Netherlands' first death of a patient with the coronavirus infection happened on Friday, when an 86-year-old man from Hoekse Waard succumbed to the disease.  He was admitted to the Ikazia Hospital in Rotterdam with urinary tract problems on Sunday and was tested for the coronavirus after he started showing respiratory problems, the hospital said on Tuesday confirming his diagnosis.

More deaths were likely to occur among patients who tested positive for the virus, the Dutch cabinet acknowledged. According to Minister Bruno Bruins for Medical Care, the recent jump in positive test cases is due to greater awareness and a massive increase in the number of people tested by the GGD to determine if they have the virus. He called it a "sharp rise", but one the health authorities took into account would happen. After the first Covid-19 diagnosis in the Netherlands on February 27th, the number of infections quickly climbed to 128 by Friday after another noteworthy increase from 38 to 82 the previous day.

Four university students who returned from Italy on Saturday have shown initial symptoms of coronavirus, and were tested for the infection. They are part of a group of several hundred University of Groningen students who sparked controversy last week when they ignored travel and health advice suggesting they call off their winter sport holiday to the Italian Alps. The students are members of the Vindicat student association, and they returned from their skiing trip in Sestrière by bus. Back in Groningen, they were expected to be taken to a special location set up by municipal health service GGD, for a medical check and to discuss how to monitor their health in the coming days.

About 300 of the 760 who returned on Saturday a day earlier than planned already began discussing the situation with doctors and nurses, Dagblad van het Noorden reported.

"The 900 students taking the trip and the Vindicat that planned it have been utterly irresponsible, as they put the faculty’s and other students’ health at great risk upon arrival, said Mehrad Moeini, an assistant professor of consumer behavior at the university. "It’s naive assuming that these irresponsible people monitor themselves and don’t show up in campus!" he stated on social media.

When the students left for their skiing holiday, the travel advice for northern Italy at the cautionary level but not fully negative. It was designated a high-risk area due to the growing number of Covid-19 infections. On Tuesday, the Ministry of Foreign Advice escalated its advice for the region to a code orange, advising travelers to avoid the area unless absolutely necessary.

On Friday a spokesperson for the GGD told newspaper AD that there is no reason to assume that the students are infected. There are a few thousand Dutch in northern Italy at present, and the GGD only took measures because the students returned in such large numbers. The students holidayed at the very tip of northern Italy - the nearest source of infection was over 200 kilometers away - and they had little contact with locals. 

The University of Groningen will not take any additional measures for when these students return to class on Monday, a spokesperson for the university said to NOS on Friday. The university is following the RIVM's advise and guidelines, but classes will continue and libraries will stay open. 

The national government launched a helpline that Netherlands residents can call with questions about the coronavirus. The number is 0800-1351.