Health Min. can't rule out another Covid lockdown
Health Minister Ernst Kuipers can't guarantee that there will be no new coronavirus lockdown. That depends on the possible emergence of new coronavirus variants. If one is highly contagious, makes people very ill, and is resistant to vaccines, the Cabinet may need to take restrictive measures. Kuipers said this in a parliamentary debate on the long-term approach to the coronavirus. Parliament would prefer to avoid a lockdown.
Kuipers does not share parliament’s concerns about insufficient capacity at health service GGD to vaccinate many people quickly as soon as this proves necessary. The GGDs can vaccinate 3 million people within six weeks. That seems sufficient to him.
He is, however, concerned about the vaccination rate. The turnout for the latest round of vaccinations was “disappointing,” the Minister said. In that round earlier this year, people over 60 and people with vulnerable health were invited for a second booster shot. Many of them didn’t get one.
Kuipers does not want to meet parliament’s widely shared wish to expand intensive care capacity. That capacity is sufficient, he said. The Netherlands currently has 993 operational ICU beds - beds with staff available. Of these, 686 were in use on Thursday. There were coronavirus patients in 24 of those beds.
If necessary, ICU capacity can scale up to 1,700 beds. The intensive care units cannot handle more, the Minister said. More would mean insufficient staff per patient and put regular care under pressure.
Kuipers cannot say when stricter measures against the coronavirus would be needed. In the previous waves, the pressure on healthcare and ICU occupancy were the main reasons for restrictions being necessary. “The situation is different now. There are and will be other variants, and many people have been infected,” the Minister said. “I can’t predict now whether the number of infections will be leading or the pathogenicity of a variant.”
The Minister noted that the Cabinet currently has no legal options to impose mandatory measures, such as wearing face masks or social distancing. That legal basis disappeared when the Senate rejected a new extension of the Temporary Coronavirus Act in mid-May.
The Cabinet can only impose mandatory measures again after an amendment to the Public Health Act. The Minister will submit a bill to parliament at the end of August. If the need arises before the bill can be implemented, Kuipers can use emergency regulations to take measures. That was the practice when the pandemic first broke out.
Reporting by ANP