RIVM leader accused of tunnel vision during early phase of pandemic
The Outbreak Management Team and the Cabinet mainly focused on combatting the coronavirus. That perspective remained dominant, and that is because RIVM boss Jaap van Dissel "was present in almost all crisis teams," the Dutch Safety Board (OVV) said in its first of three reports on the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the OVV, the "dominance of this perspective made it more difficult for consultants and decision-makers to look beyond the theme of infectious disease."
Van Dissel chaired the Outbreak Management Team, which advised the Cabinet on how to tackle the coronavirus. He is director of the Center for Infectious Disease Control at public health institute RIVM. He is also a professor of infectious diseases at the LUMC university hospital in Leiden.
When tackling the coronavirus outbreak, the Cabinet paid too little attention to the social consequences of the measures. They were "subordinate to getting the virus under control," the OVV noted.
According to the OVV, the government did not have "an adequate response to the growing dissatisfaction with social themes like increasing learning delays, increasing loneliness, restricted fundamental rights, delayed care, and decreased quality of life in care centers." These consequences resulted in support for the measures dwindling slowly but surely.
The OVV also said that Van Dissel "undermined" the public's confidence in the government's coronavirus policy by openly doubting the usefulness of facemasks.
He thought that face masks could lead to a false sense of security. Wearing face masks could make people laxer with other precautions, like washing hands, keeping a distance from others, and staying home in case of complaints, he thought.
When the Cabinet made wearing masks mandatory in 2020, first in public transport and later in public spaces, Van Dissel called it a political choice and not a scientific one. "Through these statements, government policy was undermined by advisers from the same government," said the OVV. According to the council, it did not help "maintain support for the announced measures." In another place in the report, the OVV said that Van Dissel "undermined public confidence in government policy."
Reporting by ANP