Monday 17 January 2022

Little room for change in coronavirus rules, new health minister says

Ernst Kuipers talks to reporters after being sworn in as health minister. Photo: Sem van der Wal ANP

New health minister Ernst Kuipers has told reporters there is little room to relax the current lockdown rules because of the high coronavirus infection rates.

Although fewer coronavirus patients are currently being taken into hospital in the Netherlands, in countries where Omicron has already peaked, hospital admissions are now rising.

However, Kuipers said, he is prepared to look at what can be done and that he has asked the Outbreak Management Team for new recommendations. The OMT is due to meet on Wednesday and there will be a new press conference outlining the latest situation on Friday.

Kuipers also hinted that he may perhaps have a different approach to his predecessor Hugo de Jonge, telling reporters that ‘the solution for managing the pandemic is far wider than healthcare’.

Other models of how the pandemic may progress, which look outside infection numbers and hospital admissions, may also be useful in assessing strategy he said, and the economic impact will also be looked at.

Nevertheless, while increasing capacity in hospitals buys time, eventually you will have to take measures and developing long term strategy is also a priority, he said.

Coronavirus, he said, had highlighted the shortcomings in the current Dutch healthcare system and the need for new solutions to solve capacity and access issues outside the pandemic.

Masks

The new government will also consider the OMT’s recommendations on the wider use of masks, when ministers meet ahead of Friday’s press conference. The advisory group said on Monday that textile masks should be replaced by medical masks and should also be worn outdoors in busy places and at demonstrations.

The AD points out in an editorial that OMT boss Jaap van Dissel had opposed the use of masks for much of 2020, and the Netherlands was one of the last countries in Europe to make their use compulsory in some situations.

The Dutch dithering, the paper says, meant the debate about masks took place on the street, rather than within the cabinet offices, and that in turn sowed doubt about their effectiveness in general.

‘It is up to our new health minister,’ the paper said, ‘to get the genie back into the bottle.’

Not for sale

Meanwhile, news website Nu.nl reports that the Netherlands’ biggest high street chemist chains and other retailers have few type 2 medical masks in stock.

‘We were not allowed to sell this type of mask for a long time,’ a spokesman for Kruidvat and Trekpleister told the website. ‘We do have some now, but as a service to healthcare workers.’

Etos and Albert Heijn said they are now trying to source the masks, while Jumbo also said it had none.

The stores do have FFP2 masks, which the OMT is recommending for use indoors, in stock but say demand has been soaring in recent days.

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