Former RIVM chief criticises ‘open-ended’ Dutch approach to coronavirus

'We cannot go back to normal, because 'normal' was precisely the problem.' Photo:
‘We cannot go back to normal, because ‘normal’ was precisely the problem.’ Photo:

The previous head of the infections diseases department at Dutch public health institute RIVM has criticised the government’s strategy for dealing with coronavirus, saying it is inconsistent and open-ended.

Roel Coutinho told television show Nieuwsuur that he considers the policy of making tackling the virus a community effort to be too non-committal. While prime minister Mark Rutte is good at sketching out the problems, he is placing too much responsibility on the shoulders of the man in the street, Coutinho said.

The former RIVM chief, who left the agency in 2013, also said he considers face masks should be compulsory nationwide in shops and restaurants and for people whose job involves close contact with others.

Testing on arrival for people coming to the Netherlands from risky areas should be compulsory and cafes and restaurants should also be required by law to register customer contact details, he said.

In particular, allowing Rotterdam and Amsterdam to introduce masks in busy areas is confusing, he told the programme. ‘So you walk in the Kalverstraat with a mask on and then a bit further on you don’t have to,’ he said. ‘That is not completely clear, and people will start thinking “it does not work”.’

Earlier this week the government said cafes and bars identified as centres of coronavirus infection are to be closed for two weeks, and voluntary testing is to be introduced at Dutch airports for people from high-risk areas, in an effort to stop the increase in coronavirus infections in the Netherlands.

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