The Netherlands is poorly prepared for a new surge in coronavirus infections in the autumn because of failures to put basic safety measures in place such as ventilation in schools, health experts have warned.
Opposition politicians have accused the government of dragging its feet on its pandemic strategy and not streamlining healthcare to deal with the extra burden of a new outbreak.
Attje Kuiken, who was health spokesman for the Labour party (PvdA) until she was elected leader last week, said health minister Ernst Kuipers had still not produced detailed plans to tackle the virus long-term. ‘We’ve been waiting since January for this,’ she told AD.nl.
Possible measures such as extending the Christmas school holidays need to be discussed well in advance, Kuiken warned, to avoid disruptive last-minute changes of plan.
‘Covid care isn’t rocket science,’ Armand Girbes, head of intensive care at Amsterdam’s UMC teaching hospital.’ It’s more efficient to concentrate healthcare rather than implement it in every hospital individually.
‘That way you can keep regular care accessible and you won’t need broader social measures so quickly.’
Girbes said it was likely that another 200-300 patients will end up in intensive care this autumn through a combination of coronavirus and flu. Hospital infrastructure needs to be upgraded to cope with the extra demand as Covid becomes a regular seasonal illness.
Healthcare economist Xander Koolman said basic measures such as better ventilation in schools were running aground because of disputes over funding.
‘Schools say: we’re not getting enough money, while politicians say: it’s up to the schools. And so a low-cost intervention is left behind. If events go against us we’ll have another lockdown in the autumn.’
Virologist Menno de Jong, a member of the government’s outbreak management team during the pandemic, said a new variant of coronavirus could change the picture again, though it was unlikely that it would be more severe than the currently dominant Omicron variant.
‘With Omicron coronavirus is well on the way to becoming the kind of runny nose virus that we see with other coronaviruses,’ he said. ‘But a variant that is less affected by our existing immunity could cause big problems again, especially for vulnerable people, even if they’ve been vaccinated.’
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