Dutch security services warned of consequences of pandemic for years: report

Security services in the Netherlands have been warning about the dangers of a pandemic like the coronavirus since 2016. In reports by the national coordinator for counterterrorism and security NCTV, the security services warned that the Netherlands does not have enough ICU beds, among other things, NRC reports based on its own research. It seems little was done with this advice.

Last year's National Security Strategy, a policy document on which the government bases its security plans, also paid attention to preparing for a pandemic. "The risk of an outbreak of a (serious) infectious disease such as an influenza pandemic remains real," the newspaper quoted from the document. It advised the government to implement "policy at a strategic level" to be prepared for this.

Despite being warned about the dangers of a pandemic in NCTV safety analyses since 2016, written in collaboration with experts from health institute RIVM, research center TNO, and intelligence and security service AIVD, little seem to have been done to actually prepare. "Our preparations for a pandemic has been mainly symbolic," Ira Helsloot, professor of security governance, said to the newspaper. "Plans have been written for it, but we were not prepared in a material sense."

That can be seen in the looming shortage of ICU beds, now that the country is in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. As of Thursday there were 761 coronavirus patients in ICU. The association for intensive care NVIC expects that to increase to 1,100 by next week. And another 500 ICU beds are reserved for people with health issues other than Covid-19. The Netherlands normally has 1,150 beds in intensive care units across the country. 

Minister Hugo de Jonge of Public Health told parliament on Thursday that the number of beds can increase to 1,600 by April 1 - exactly enough to handle next week's expectations. NCIV director Diederik Gommers confirmed to NRC that this increase in ICU beds is indeed possible "if we collect all the things together". 

The peak in Covid-19 patients in ICU is expected at end May. The NVIC then expects around 2,200 beds to be needed. 

"Warnings in scenarios are mainly used in politics to confirm their own position," Leiden researcher Ed Dammers said to the newspaper. "Politics are focused on the short term: urgency displaces importance." He would like to see a parliamentary inquiry and evaluation of the government's preparations for a pandemic, he said.