Children hardly spread coronavirus: health official; Keep schools closed anyway, says Wilders

Ridderhof, Parliament, The Hague
The Ridderzaal at night, in the Binnenhof parliamentary complex in The Hague. Sept. 26, 2015mandritoiuDepositPhotosDeposit Photos

Children play a negligible role in the transmission of Covid-19, Jaap van Dissel of public health agency RIVM told parliament during a debate on the government's response to the pandemic on Wednesday. According to Van Dissel, who directs the Center for Infectious Disease Control wing of the RIVM, there are several studies which indicate that children become ill from contracting the coronavirus very infrequently, and they seldom pass it along to adults when they do.

This comes after Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced on Tuesday the government's decision to reopen primary schools and childcare centers from May 11.

With only around 0.7 percent of Covid-19 patients being under the age of 19, Van Dissel believes that the risk is low enough for schools to be allowed to reopen for the first time since they were closed on March 16.

Open bars and restaurants, not primary schools: Wilders

Head of the far-right PVV, Geert Wilders, voiced his disapproval of the government's intention to begin reopening primary schools, asserting his belief that there are "still too many uncertainties" to do so safely.

In spite of Van Dissel's testimony, Wilders nevertheless insists that there is division among experts as to the risk of transmission between schoolchildren and adults, such as parents and teachers.

Wilders also believes that the catering industry, which includes bars and restaurants, should reopen as soon as possible. According to him, this should rather happen "in three days than in three weeks" due to the immense financial strain such companies remain under. Bars and restaurants are set to open on May 20 unless social distancing measures are extended further next month.

"The catering industry is very much helped if they can open as soon as possible," Wilders stated.

MPs from Rutte's own conservative VVD party urged the cabinet to draw up a separate plan for restaurants and cafes, believing that because such businesses are especially vulnerable, the current financial support measures have proven inadequate.

Klaas Dijkhoff, the VVD's chairman, said that additional conditions can be imposed on restaurants and cafes, so long as they receive additional government support.

Psychologists, economists and ethicists should advise cabinet

Members of Parliament across multiple parties voiced widespread criticism over the government's perceived over-reliance on the advise of the Outbreak Management Team (OMT) to handle the Covid-19 crisis.

According to members of the VVD, CDA, D66 and ChristenUnie, the cabinet should be listening to more advice from a "new team" of experts that would be capable of shedding insights into different aspects of the pandemic and its impact on society, not just the impact on public health. The parties called for the government to consider the participation of psychologists, educators, ethicists and economists in the cabinet's advisory team.

At present, the OMT is made up of a variety of infectious disease experts and public health officials.