Covid-19 at airports, ICU's and testing top Dutch MP concerns

Parliament in the Netherlands at night
The Dutch parliament buildings in The Hague at night. Jan. 16, 2019jaalbersDepositPhotosDeposit Photos

Members of parliament have shown broad support for Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus, although some MPs assert that more ought to be done. This comes as the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch Parliament, convened on Tuesday to debate the government’s current efforts to tackle the ongoing crisis, and its path forward.

Chief among the concerns raised by MPs were the issues of border security, access to intensive care unit equipment, ICU facilities, and coronavirus testing.

The leader of far right nationalist party PVV, Geert Wilders, questioned the government as to why air traffic is still arriving daily from places like New York, which has become an epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic. His concerns were shared by the coalition party CDA, which asserted that passengers arriving from New York should undergo screening upon arrival.

While Schiphol itself has indicated that they will not be screening arrivals coming in from New York, KLM announced on Wednesday that they plan to step up measures to screen passengers instead by possibly monitoring temperatures and providing face masks prior to boarding.

The Cabinet told MPs that he will convene a new crisis meeting tomorrow with the Cabinet, in which he intends to discuss possible measures for preventing non-resident foreign nationals from entering the Netherlands.

Implementing travel controls was a step supported by the left wing GroenLinks, which called for tighter restrictions and the prohibition of domestic travel during the upcoming May vacation period. The party also proposed a ban all religious services in the Netherlands, arguing that such gatherings contribute to the spread of the Covid-19 disease. However, the ban was firmly rebuked by Rutte, who pointed out not only that would such a measure be “constitutionally impossible,” but that religious communities are already largely adhering to the governments plea to remain at home.

Another key concern raised by MPs was the issue of ICU capacity in hospitals. The left wing Labour Party, for example, urged the government to up its efforts in expanding ICU facilities by increasing staffing to support up to 3,000 beds.The position was supported by Klaas Dijkhoff, the parliamentary head of Rutte’s own VVD party.

The concern was later acknowledged by health minister Hugo de Jonge, who affirmed that the government “will not stop” until they have at least 2.400 new ICU beds in operation by the weekend. The country started the week with 1,600 beds, an increase from the 1,150 which are normally in operation. About 575 of those are routinely needed for urgent cases not involving coronavirus.

Aside from ICU beds, testing was also a key issue raised at the debate, with the right wing FvD leading the call for expanded testing capabilities across the Netherlands. Party head Thierry Baudet told parliament that the country needs to “test and test” in order to be sure that “we know where we are.”

Baudet also expressed his belief that the crisis should not be used to further partisan interests, adding that now is “not the time for a one-sided discussion.” At a later stage, he says, “we will look back and evaluate.”