Costs for Fieldlab ‘coronavirus free’ events go up to €1.1bn

The Hellendoorn amusement park was open last weekend as part of the experiment. Photo: Robin Utrecht ANP
The Hellendoorn amusement park was open last weekend as part of the experiment. Photo: Robin Utrecht ANP

Criticism of the so-called Fieldlab events – visits to theatres, museums, stadiums and bars with a negative fast test –  is increasing because of controversy surrounding the spiralling costs for testing centres and the rationale behind them, Dutch media report.

Health minister Hugo de Jonge told MPs in a briefing on Wednesday evening that the actual budget for the five month programme will be €1.1bn – up from an earlier estimate of €925m.

The budget is not a blank cheque and will ‘certainly not be made over to the foundation in one go,’ the minister said. The budget covers setting up the test centres, personnel costs, IT, education and training, a call centre and money for research, he said.

Some 233,000 people in total are expected to take part in the events, the first of which are taking place this month and some which will have up to 10,000 people.

However, the government’s Outbreak Management Team (OMT), supported by a number of virologists, has warned that there are too many events and that fast tests are not always reliable, which may precipitate further outbreaks.

And questions have also been raised about the aim of the tests and what exactly is being researched, given few results have been published so far.

Not transparent

Earlier this week, website Follow the Money described the set up as ‘extremely unusual, not transparent and unsupervised.’ It also pointed out that the contract for the project was awarded to the Open Nederland foundation without being put out to public tender, as required by law.

In addition, all the coronavirus testing in the first phase will also be done by a single company without a tender – a potentially highly-lucrative deal.

De Jonge has since told MPs there was not time to put the organisation and testing out to tender because it would have meant long delays, and that there are ‘safety valves’ in place to monitor how the money is spent.

However, 20 other private testing companies have now started legal action against Open Nederland, accusing it of unfair competition.

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