Forced quarantine a possibility in government's new coronavirus policy

Hugo de Jonge at the EPP Summit in Brussels, May 2019
Hugo de Jonge at the EPP Summit in Brussels, May 2019European People's PartyWikimedia CommonsCC-BY

Persons infected with the coronavirus or who had contact with an infected person may be forced into quarantine, Minister Hugo de Jonge of Public Health said in a parliamentary debate regarding the government's new coronavirus strategy on Wednesday. While the Minister hopes "not to make use of it", there is legal basis to force someone into quarantine he said. 

The government's new testing policy is that everyone with symptoms that indicate a coronavirus infection will be tested from June 1. From then on health service GGD will also expand its contact tracing, tracking down everyone an infected person had contact with. Those contacts will be called and advised to quarantine at home. 

According to the Minister, the vast majority of people advised by health authority GGD to quarantine themselves give heed to this advice. But if it proves necessary to intervene, the security regions can force people to stay at home, De Jonge said. "In the Public Health Act, an infected person can be forced into isolation. That does not seem to be an option to be eager for, but it is possible," the Minister said. "I hope not to use it."

De Jonge also stressed that employers cannot force employees who received GGD advice to stay home to come in to work. The GGD advice is medical advice that employers are bound to adhere to on the basis of the Working Conditions Act, the Minister said. Employees may be asked to work from home, if it is possible for them to do so, he added. 

The parliamentary debate also revealed that there is still much confusion around the dashboard the government plans to use in its new policy. The dashboard will include data about hospital admissions, intensive care admissions, test results, as well as the results of studies into how well people are adhering to social distancing rules, and movement patterns based on location data from mobile phones. The government plans to use data from this dashboard to determine whether lockdown measures can be relaxed, or need to be tightened.

GroenLinks wanted more clarity about how the dashboard will be used exactly. "How and when will the government make adjustments?" party leader Jesse Klaver asked. ChristenUnie leader Gert-Jan Segers wanted to know based on what the government would intervene. PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher wants clarity on exactly what the government's goal is - letting the virus circulate, or focus on containment?

De Jonge said that it is currently difficult to indicate exactly at what numbers the government will intervene. But he does believe that the dashboard will provide more insight into the decisions the government makes.