Coronavirus advisor: “It’s not going well”; Second wave concerns mounting
The Dutch government’s special coronavirus envoy, Feike Sijbesma, has advised the Cabinet to take swift, visible actions now to prevent the possibility of a second coronavirus wave as the number of daily infections uncovered continues to rise. “We are hardly keeping our distance anymore, there is a lack of clarity about face masks and we are not getting tested very often,” he said to newspaper NRC.
“It's not going well,” he said.
Sijbesma left his role as the CEO of biochemistry multinational DSM in February after 13 years on the job. He was supposed to stay on in a transition role for several months as new leadership took the reigns at the firm, but the Cabinet called and asked for help as the Covid-19 crisis spiraled out of control.
He is now helping to lead the government’s position on SARS-CoV-2 vaccine development and acquisition. In his first few weeks, he helped the government access the materials needed for more coronavirus mucus swab tests, and helped launch wide scale antibody tests at blood bank Sanquin. Within days of his appointment, chemical giant Roche made the formula for their buffer solution available so more swab tests could be processed.
“The numbers are still low, but if you let this continue for too long, it will go wrong,” Sijbesma told the newspaper. He is most concerned about people ignoring the advice to keep 1.5 meters apart from one another, and he does not think people are getting tested at the first onset of cold or flu symptoms.
“We didn't see it coming in February, even when it really arrived. You can see that now. We are again wondering whether some measures, such as a face mask obligation, are proportional. But strong actions now are better than a lockdown later. That is much more disruptive economically,” he continued.
Sijbesma was also very disappointed to hear that a relatively small percentage of the population said they would get tested for the coronavirus infection at the first onset of symptoms. “I was shocked. We've been working on additional tests for months, and now people are saying, ‘Should I get the flu, I'm not going to be tested.’ I do not understand that."
“We've been working on additional tests for months, and now people are saying, ‘Should I get the flu, I'm not going to be tested.’"
He is also an advocate for people wearing face masks in public, and he believes the government position on this issue has been too murky for too long. “I am happy that the cabinet and the OMT are now going to sit together. Let them make a clear decision about this,” he said of the recent news that the face mask issue would be reevaluated. For now, public health agency RIVM said it would not change its negative advice on making face masks mandatory.
Sijbesma also wanted to see the government do something more visible than a last minute press conference to address the rising number of infections. He said a large public campaign could help sway opinion and remind people that the Covid-19 pandemic is still with us.
“You must do visible things,” he said.