Netherlands could test asymptomatic travelers on arrival: Health Min.

Travelers waiting or their luggage at Schiphol
Travelers waiting or their luggage at SchipholkruwtDepositPhotosDeposit Photos

The Outbreak Management Team (OMT) of crisis experts has been asked to investigate whether or not tourists, Dutch citizens and immigrants should be tested for an active infection of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus upon arrival in the Netherlands. The proposal was one of several initiatives the OMT was asked to investigate as the Netherlands begins fighting against a rapid rise in the number of coronavirus infections discovered in the country, Healthcare Minister Hugo de Jonge wrote in a letter to parliament.

De Jonge asked the OMT specifically to investigate if testing asymptomatic travelers, including those returning to the country, should be tested if they are arriving from higher risk areas. He said the Cabinet wanted to determine if it would be "an effective measure to prevent the import of the coronavirus from these areas," and if shortening the duration of any required quarantines could be feasible. He also asked if this would "promote compliance." Currently, people are only strongly advised to self-quarantine for two weeks when they arrive from a high-risk area, and were asked to schedule a test to see if they have a SARS-CoV-2 infection if health symptoms arise

This week, preliminary data from public health agency RIVM showed that the Netherlands has seen a 23 percent increase in the number of people testing positive for the infection. That total is on top of the 84 percent increase witnessed the previous week, when nearly a thousand infections were made known. An estimated 6,500 people in the country have an active infection, about 2.5 times greater than at the beginning of July.

"Over the past week, we have seen an increase in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. That worries everyone," De Jonge said, writing also on behalf of Tamara van Ark, the Minister of Medical Care and Sport, and Justice and Security Minister Ferd Grapperhaus. "The cause of all outbreak clusters at this time is non-compliance with the applicable rules of conduct," he said, referring to social distancing and hygiene advice. "These rules of conduct are based on scientific advice from the OMT. It is crucial to comply with these rules of conduct to fight and prevent the virus."

Amid growing calls from to reconsider the effectiveness of wearing face masks in public, De Jonge also formally told parliament that the OMT would take another look at the issue as more scientific research has become available. He said the Cabinet wants to know if "it is of added value to make non-medical face masks compulsory" in some public spaces, without specifying the locations in question.

While this is under investigation, the ministers agreed that, "No additional measures are necessary for the time being." However, the Cabinet's own coronavirus envoy, former DSM leader Feike Sijbemans said he wanted to see swift, visible action from the government now to prevent a second wave of infections, which would show the government will not repeat mistakes made in February by waiting too long to address the issue.

"I understand that it raises questions and unrest when neighboring countries make it compulsory to wear the mask in public spaces, while in the Netherlands the mask is only mandatory in special cases, such as when traveling by public transport," De Jonge wrote. "In order to make an informed decision about this, I asked the Outbreak Management Team, given the experiences in other countries and the latest scientific insights, whether in some situations or in some places the obligation of non-medical masks is of added value, and if so, in which situations and in which places."

He said he also wanted the OMT to investigate research from the RIVM about the public not adhering to social distancing measures, and a high percentage of the public saying that they would not get register themselves for a coronavirus test at the first sign of cold or flu symptoms. The public has been advised to contact municipal health service GGD and get tested if they have a cough, stuffy or runny nose, or a fever.

"Keeping to the basic rules as best as possible together is still the most important means of limiting the spread of the virus and keeping society open," De Jonge cautioned. "I would therefore like to emphasize once again the importance of the general advice: keep a meter and a half away, wash your hands, stay home in case of health complaints, work from home and avoid crowds," he wrote.

"If everyone shows responsible behavior, they all can control the virus."