Covid-19 testing hotline buckles under volume of calls

A truck from municipal health service GGD Amsterdam
A truck from municipal health service GGD Amsterdam on Linnaeusstraat in Amsterdam Oost. March 9, 2020NL TimesNL Times

While over half a million phone calls were made this week by Netherlands residents eager to be tested for Covid-19, only some 10,000 appointments were carried out since the hotline was opened on Monday, according to a report by NOS.

However, while acknowledging that call centers have indeed been inundated in the days following the hotline's launch, the GGD nevertheless holds that the situation will become increasingly controllable as the days go by. "We expect to have completed a total of 80,000 tests by Sunday," explained GGD director Sjaak de Gouw to the public broadcaster on Friday.

Any person suffering from symptoms of illness in the Netherlands is entitled to call call 0800-1202 to make an appointment with the GGD, where they will be able to receive a test for Covid-19. The telephone number, which is cost free and available between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily, was expected to be used to book appointments for 30,000 tests per day, according to the GGD. So far, however, the health service has fallen well short of this target.

According to the health service, a reason for the delay rested in the fact that systems simply became overloaded, with around 300 of the 1100 operators who were working from home not being able to log in to the appointment system on Monday. Many of the operators experiencing the problem saw it persist all week, the GGD added.

To compound the log in issues, telephone lines also found themselves regularly overloaded due to the high volume of callers, resulting in often long waiting times and interruptions. "It was not foreseen that people mainly call in the morning, our telecom package is not provided for that," a GGD spokesperson told NOS.

"As a result, we have peaks in the morning and sometimes a long waiting time, while in the afternoon there is sometimes 0 minutes waiting time and you can immediately get someone on the line," the spokesperson added.