Health Minister defends refusal to ban flights from India
Caretaker Health Minister Hugo de Jonge sees no reason for now to ban flights from India, as there the current EU-wide entry ban already prevents residents of that country from entering the Netherlands. He said that the requirement for two negative coronavirus tests for people exempted from the ban, like those who have residency in the Netherlands, is an effective measure to prevent the spread of a the B.1.617 strain of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which is thought to have originated in India.
The number of coronavirus infections in India has risen sharply in the past month, possibly due to the new variant. Hours after Thursday night’s Parliamentary debate in the Tweede Kamer, authorities in India announced that a record 332,730 people tested positive for the coronavirus infection in the preceding day. Infections there shot up exponentially over the past six weeks; on March 9 just over 15 thousand tested positive for the virus.
“In addition, the quarantine advice applies as soon as they are on Holland’s soil. In short, the [infected] people who still squeak through will go through an entire car wash, so that the virus will probably really stay outside our door,” De Jonge said.
The parties D66 and CDA questioned the Cabinet most heavily over its decision not to impose a flight ban to prevent the spread of the new strain of the virus, like it did in the past with the United Kingdom, South Africa, and much of South America. Those bans were lifted after the government imposed the double negative test rule. The B.1.617 strain is considered to be a double mutation, which has some concerned it could be adept at evading the body's immune response.
De Jonge responded that the new variant was still being monitored by scientists and experts, and the World Health Organization (WHO) is yet to issue an official warning in relation to the new strain. If that happens, and if the RIVM advises the government to go beyond the current entry ban, negative test obligation and the quarantine advice, then a flight ban from India is possible. “I have no problem with that,” he said.
A number of countries including the UK, New Zealand and Hong Kong have already banned air travel from India in the last few days over the new strain concerns, and a few more have indicated they were also considering such a choice.
”The high contamination rate in India can also have another cause, of course. It does not necessarily have to be due to an infectious mutation. It is possible, but it is not necessary the case,” De Jonge argued.
”In short, I just want to say that the Cabinet is very willing to take any measure that helps.”