Without knowing exactly how many cases of coronavirus are out there, governments are left in the dark as they figure out how to tackle the crisis. The Netherlands has been criticised for their approach to testing: but what exactly is going on?
Countries around the globe have taken vastly different approaches to the coronavirus pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged governments to test as many people as possible in their respective countries, but the Netherlands has limited the testing to vulnerable groups only, reports RTL Nieuws.
We’ve written this article in order to clarify all relevant elements of testing and how it works in the Netherlands.
Who gets the test in the Netherlands?
Currently, testing is reserved only for vulnerable people. The strategy the Netherlands is currently taking is one of mitigation, not containment.
Currently, if someone suffers from a medical issue that could point to coronavirus, they must stay in self-isolation. When they haven’t experienced a symptom for 24 hours they can be released.
There’s one exception to this approach: the northern provinces, which we will discuss later.
The RIVM considers vulnerable groups as being people in their 70’s and above, as well as people with underlying health conditions that might complicate due to the coronavirus. People in this category may include:
- people with lung conditions
- people with heart problems
- diabetic people
- people with a reduced immune system
- HIV patients
- patients with kidney problems
What do you do if you suspect you have coronavirus?
According to the official policy by the RIVM, if you have symptoms such as a runny nose, a sore throat, fever and/or a cough, you should stay at home in self-isolation and avoid contact with any vulnerable group. You need to stay at home for as long as the symptoms persist. If you get better after a period of 24 hours without no symptoms, it is considered that you are cured, and you are free to go outside.
However, if the symptoms persist and get worse, for example, you have a fever over 38 degrees Celsius and you have difficulty breathing, you should call your GP and ask for advice.
In reality, however, it’s not clear how the policy of getting tested for coronavirus works, as you might have symptoms that are worse and still not get tested.
Is the Netherlands respecting WHO guidelines in regards to testing as much as possible?
The World Health Organization recommends that as many tests are conducted as possible, and the Netherlands is conducting up to 2000 tests daily. The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) say that they are complying with WHO’s recommendations. However, they’re limited by capacity.
Is The Netherlands testing enough? How to test-test-test per WHO recommendation, given the limited stock of test reagents? pic.twitter.com/qFJFsf1I2g
— Max Meis (@max_meis) March 19, 2020
Testing kits in the Netherlands are very limited, and so is the ability of laboratories and scientists to process results.
Regional differences in testing for coronavirus in the Netherlands
In the northern provinces, there are fewer cases but far more tests being conducted. A lot of tests are conducted on healthcare workers, their relatives, and their housemates, as a way of preventing the spread of viruses within hospitals.
Test Nederland minder dan het WHO voorschrijft? Dit is de richtlijn van het WHO aan landen met 'community transmission' (zoals Nederland): test vooral risicogroepen en zorgpersoneel – wat Nederland doet. https://t.co/OFtqUcd7Z4 pic.twitter.com/9jQZLJcJnR
— Mark Lievisse Adriaanse (@Markla94) March 23, 2020
Dr. Alex Friedrich, head of the Medical Microbiology department at the UMC Groningen, says that they are taking this approach because the virus hasn’t spread so much in the north of the Netherlands. Therefore, they are taking a strategy of containment, rather than mitigation.
Minister of Health De Jonge has been less than enthusiastic about the approach of the northern provinces. In his view, all provinces need to have a coordinated response to the crisis, as laid down by the RIVM.
In the meantime, Brabant has been the worst-hit area in the Netherlands. Social distancing was implemented in Brabant before the rest of the country followed, but it remains unclear how efficient the measures have been.
Pharmaceutical company not sharing secret recipe needed for producing coronavirus tests
Roche pharmaceuticals is a large part of the reason there is not yet widespread testing for coronavirus. The company does not have enough test materials to supply Dutch laboratories, but they are also standing in the way of workaround solutions, de Telegraaf reports.
Vendor lock-in is preventing the production of coronavirus tests
Roche is a market leader in the Netherlands, and has used this privilege to create what is called a vendor lock-in, according to research by Follow the Money. That means that laboratories which use Roche machinery to make medicines or do experiments also have to use Roche materials to do so. Because Roche is experiencing a shortage of the materials necessary for coronavirus tests, Dutch laboratories haven’t been able to allow for the widespread testing that was so effective in halting the spread of coronavirus in other countries like South Korea.
Roche could share the prescription needed for corona tests with Dutch laboratories
You might feel some form of sympathy for Roche if they were just underprepared for the scale of coronavirus: almost everyone was. But the problem is that there is a solution to this shortage, but Roche is refusing to take it presently because of its impact on their profits. Roche could share the prescription for one of the elements of the testing materials, called a lysis buffer, with Dutch laboratories. It would be very easy for the laboratories to make this once they had the prescription, and that could in turn ease the shortage of tests.
How does the Netherlands fare in testing compared to other countries?
The country as of now does not have enough coronavirus testing kits to make large tests over the whole population. Countries like Germany test 200,000 people per week, but it is important to note that the country has a way bigger population than the Netherlands.
Overall, the RIVM has said that it is difficult to compare the situation in the Netherlands with other countries. To determine the current development of the virus in the Netherlands, the RIVM looks at hospital admissions and intensive care admissions. When determining if to add or remove measures, not only these numbers are considered, but also the actions of neighbouring countries.
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