SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch public health institute has again repeated calls for people to avoid busy places, as the number of positive coronavirus tests in the country doubles.
In the week to Tuesday, 2,588 people tested positive for Covid-19, almost double the previous week’s total. At the same time, fewer tests were carried out. ‘This development is worrying,’ RIVM spokeswoman Susan van den Hof told broadcaster NOS.
‘The number of infections is increasing sharply and the fact it has not stabilised gives cause for concern.’ The surge in cases is particularly evident in Rotterdam and Amsterdam but is also picking up in The Hague region and in West Brabant.
Both Amsterdam and Rotterdam introduced face masks in several busy areas from Wednesday, which they hope will change behaviour and remind people to keep their distance.
Prime minister Mark Rutte and health minister Hugo de Jonge have returned from holiday to hold a press conference on Thursday which, insiders say, is likely to include more regional measures to stop the spread of the virus.
The last press conference was on June 24 and the prime minister has come under fire from MPs for losing his grip on the crisis. In particular, Labour leader Lodewijk Asscher has criticised the government for its ‘lack of vision’ and for being ‘invisible’ as the number of coronavirus cases mount.
‘It is not about him being here in person, but that the cabinet is visible, with a clear message,’ Asscher told Trouw in an interview. ‘It was obvious a couple of weeks ago that we had new clusters.’
The government’s current strategy, he said, is impossible to understand. ‘The cabinet says face masks don’t work, makes them compulsory on public transport and then allows local authorities to experiment with them.
That is not leadership and you don’t keep the people on your side.’
Among the measures which ministers may announce on Thursday is testing at Schiphol for people returning from high risk areas, and proper supervision of the 14 days quarantine recommended for holidaymakers who have been to parts of Spain and Croatia.
Student associations and fraternities are also likely to face calls to tone down events for new students, given that coronavirus infections are rising fast among the young.
Despite the sharp rise in the number of cases, Ernst Kuipers, head of the national acute healthcare network LNAZ, told the Volkskrant that it is not yet time to ring the alarm bells.
The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital varied between 80 and 120 all July, compared with 4,000 admissions in April, he said. ‘If the number of infections continues to increase, that will be reflected in hospital figures,’ he said.
‘But at the moment we can deal with it.’ Jean-Louis Murk, a microbiologist at the Elisabeth-TweeSteden hospital in Tilburg told the paper he is not afraid that the situation the Netherlands faced in March will return.
‘But there is a trend which we have to reverse,’ he said. ‘Youngsters tend not to get very ill [with coronavirus] and hospitals don’t have much of a problem with them… but we have to prevent the virus from reaching vulnerable groups.’