Opposition outraged, but not surprised by Covid response criticism
Opposition parties in parliament responded critically to the Dutch Safety Board (OVV) report on the previous Cabinet's mistakes in the first phase of the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, the SP and PvdA are not surprised by the conclusions. GroenLinks fears that the Cabinet will not learn from the mistakes. Former Health Minister Hugo de Jonge and RIVM boss Jaap van Dissel also responded to the report.
The OVV spoke of a "silent disaster" in the nursing homes in the first phase of the disaster. But according to SP leader Lilian Marijnissen, the tragedy was not silent at all. "Because we drew attention to it in every debate. But the Cabinet did not want to listen and even became angry." That nursing home employees had to work without protective gear in the first phase of the pandemic is "the biggest shame in the Cabinet's approach to corona," Marijnissen said.
PvdA parliamentarian Attje Kuiken said the conclusions are "not unexpected, but hard." She thinks it is "high time to start the parliamentary inquiry and to really learn the lessons because the Cabinet is no longer getting away with the excuse of being 'caught off guard by the virus.'"
Lisa Westerveld of GroenLinks understands that mistakes happen in a major crisis. "But then acknowledge them. And then take measures to prevent the mistakes from repeating themselves." The reaction of the previous government does not reassure her. "A long as you don't acknowledge that you've made mistakes, you won't take steps to make sure it doesn't happen again next time."
The OVV report included an extended, defensive response from former Health minister Hugo de Jonge. He opposed the OVV"s criticism. Due to the investigation's design, the OVV lost sight of the "cohesion between certain topics," he said. According to De Jonge, it was unavoidable that the investigation looked at individual sub-topics, but the overall context did not come into focus as a result. For example, the Cabinet also took general coronavirus measures to protect vulnerable people living in nursing homes.
"That also sheds a different light on the conclusion that the situation in nursing homes received insufficient attention, not to mention the fact that the visit ban was implemented early in the crisis, one of the most drastic measures during the entire coronavirus crisis."
De Jone also opposed the idea that the Netherlands was unprepared for a pandemic at the beginning of 2020. "At the time, we estimated the seriousness and impact of infectious diseases based on the (scientific) knowledge at the time."
OVV chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem called De Jonge's response "striking" and said that the OVV refutes many of De Jonge's criticisms. "I get it, they worked incredibly hard, but there must also be a willingness to look back and learn lessons," said Dijsselbloem, adding that this statement is directed "broadly" and not only to De Jonge and his Ministry. "We usually don't improve ourselves through defensiveness. Let's look at it openly."
The OVV also said that RIVM director Jaap van Dissel's presence on almost all crisis teams resulted in the Cabinet focusing too much on the infectious disease side of the pandemic and not enough on the social- and other consequences. In response, Van Dissel said that he always joined coronavirus consultations by "explicit invitation." He said this during a technical briefing in parliament on Wednesday.
Van Dissel thinks that "certainly in the initial phase," it was essential that experts like him were there to "interpret" the situation. "If the OVV now judges that this happened too often or raises all kinds of questions, I think that's fine. But at that time the invitation was there. And who am I to say I'm not coming?"
Van Dissel did not answer any other questions about the OVV report because, he said, he has not yet read it thoroughly. "It's good that the report is out, and we'll look closely at what it advises before coming up with a response."
Van Dissel also did not elaborate on possible political influence on the advice from the Outbreak Management Team, of which he is the chairman. He reiterated that the Ministry of Health may ask for "clarifications." According to him, there was no question of influence.
Reporting by ANP