Netherlands' lack of Covid strategy could result in more lockdowns: report
The Netherlands is not prepared for a severe coronavirus wave in the autumn and could face new lockdowns as a result, NOS reports after speaking to 20 people in the field, including hospital directors, virologists, and scientists. They said the government's plans are too non-committal, and the elaboration of these plans is taking too long, costing valuable time.
The experts called face masks, social distancing, and some form of lockdown a realistic scenario due to the Cabinet's slowness. Parliament will debate the Cabinet's longer-term coronavirus policy on Monday. But according to the experts, there is too little discussion about preparations for a coronavirus wave in the autumn.
"Everyone seems to have fallen asleep. It's a bit like burying one's head in the sand," David Jongen, director of the Zuiderland Hospital and vice chairman of the Dutch association of hospitals NVZ, said to NOS.
Healthcare staff shortages remain the biggest concern. That was already a significant problem before the pandemic and only increased since as many overworked nurses quit in the coronavirus years. On top of that, the sector is still facing illness absenteeism that is twice as high as before the pandemic. The government has done basically nothing to address this problem, Joke Dieperink, board member of the ICU nurses' association V&VN-IC and an ICU nurse herself, said to the broadcaster. "We now have to do the job again with fewer colleagues than at the start of the pandemic. And I am really worried about that because I don't know whether this will work. That we'll lose even more colleagues in the next wave."
Mark Kramer, who succeeded current Health Minister Ernst Kuipers as chairman of the national coordination center for patient distribution LCPS, also worries that hospitals won't be able to handle a big wave of coronavirus infections this autumn and winter. "Many of the healthcare staff have not been able to recover. Absenteeism is still high, and so is the pressure on people." And that's only in the hospitals. "We are dealing with a care chain. So in addition to hospitals, the GP posts, the GP practices, the nursing and care homes, home care, and mental health care. If one link in that chain falters during a coronavirus wave, the rest of the chain could collapse."
The Ministry of Public Health seems to have given up on fixing the staff shortages, according to NOS. In the Pandemic Preparedness Policy Agenda of April 14, the Ministry wrote that "given the shortages in healthcare and other sectors, it is unrealistic to increase the number of healthcare workers further in the coming years." Andre Knottnerus, former chairman of the scientific council for government policy WRR, is worried about this lack of ambition. "Of course, you would rather hear: it is very difficult to find staff, but we are doing everything we can to make it happen."
Despite virologists not expecting a new, more severe coronavirus variant, they add that the past two years have only been disappointing when it came to Covid-19 developments. Even a mild coronavirus wave that coincides with a strong flu or RS outbreak can overrun the healthcare system, they warn. Therefore, epidemiologist Frits Rosendaal called on Kuipers and the Cabinet to be honest. "As they do in Demark, where they have made scenarios and communicated them clearly: if this happens, we will introduce these measures. So everyone knows. Then you can have a public debate about it. So that you don't have to pull out all the stops in a panic again, surprise and anger everyone, and skip the social debate."
The experts called on the Cabinet to pay urgent attention to the next wave of coronavirus infections. "I understand that the Cabinet is now mainly busy with other matters, with the war in Ukraine, rising inflation, budget problems, and the climate problem. But as a citizen, you can expect that your government can handle several crises at the same time. And every day they wait counts," Knottnerus said to NOS.