Gov't was irresponsible to lower ventilation requirements during pandemic, experts say
It is incomprehensible and irresponsible that the Dutch government decided to lower the ventilation requirements for the catering sector in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, especially since the catering industry turned out to be an important source of infections, experts said to NRC.
An amendment to the Licensing and Catering Act, which took effect on July 1, removed specific ventilation requirements for catering establishments, instead saying that they have to meet the requirements of the Building Decree. In practice, this made the ventilation requirements for catering establishments five times lower. Where they used to completely refresh the air in the building every ten minutes, existing catering establishments now only have to do so about once an hour. That is far below the standard recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), according tot he newspaper.
This topic was discussed in parliament last autumn, when Public Health State Secretary Paul Blokhuis assured parliamentarians that public health institute RIVM concluded that the Building Decree ventilation requirements were sufficient "in light of corona". But the RIVM told NRC that the cabinet never asked it to assess the ventilation situation in the catering industry. The spokesperson called the Building Decree standards "minimal", according to the newspaper.
Atze Boerstra, professor of Building Services Innovation at TU Delft, told NRC that the new ventilation requirements for catering establishments are "absurdly low from an international point of view".
These requirements were also never aimed at preventing the transmission of diseases, said Bert Brunekreef, emeritus professor of environmental epidemiology at Utrecht University. "Traditionally these ventilation standards are mainly there to combat smell problems."
Earlier this week, the Outbreak Management Team advised the cabinet to stick to the earlier, stricter ventilation standards for the catering industry for the time being. Whether the cabinet will implement this advice, is not yet clear.
The Netherlands apparent disregard of proper ventilation in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus has long been a sore point for a number of groups in the country. Earlier this month, far-right PVV leader filed a motion pressing the government to make good ventilation part of the basic measures against the virus, in addition to staying home if you have symptoms, keeping 1.5 meters away from others, and practicing good hygiene and frequent hand washing.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte agreed to the proposal, saying that the government will make the provision of fresh air the fourth piece of basic advice. "We are working on that and we will continue to work on it," Rutte said on July 14. "We will also put it on a sign at the press conferences."