Thursday 09 April 2020

Northern provinces to step up testing to ‘search and contain’ coronavirus

The four northern provinces Groningen, Drenthe, Friesland and Overijssel are planning to step up the rate of testing for Covid-19 as they try to curb the spread of the disease.

Alex Friedrich, microbiologist at the UMCG teaching hospital in Groningen, told De Groene Amsterdammer that the region was ‘departing from the national policy’ of only testing patients when they start to show symptoms.

So far the north has returned relatively few positive tests, with only a handful of municipalities recording more than 30 cases per 100,000 inhabitants as of March 22, compared to 350 in parts of Noord-Brabant.

Friedrich, who himself recently recovered from coronavirus, said more intensive testing was important to control the spread of the disease and make sure that medical staff did not infect their patients.

‘The biggest risk is that hospital staff become infected and infect patients and colleagues who then go out into the region. That can make hospitals super-spreaders of the epidemic. The national policy up until now has been to stop testing workers in the healthcare sector. We, along with a number of other hospitals, have been testing them.’

He rejected claims that testing rates were low because not enough testing kits were available. ‘I’ve never understood why people keep insisting that this is the case. We don’t have a problem with capacity. Sometimes a particular lab has a shortage of particular materials, but that’s business as usual, you can fix that,’ he said.

Friedrich said ‘search and contain’, identifying and isolating people with the disease, was the best way to control the outbreak once the initial wave of infections had passed. ‘It seems as if the Netherlands and other European countries have activated the flu pandemic plan that was created with the Mexican flu in 2009, without making clear adjustments for a risk like Sars 1 or Sars-CoV-2.

‘That is not an approach to nip the infection in the bud, but to restrain it. What we are going to do is attempt to maintain search and control for as long as possible.’

 

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