There was no detailed plan for the quarantine obligation, and how the security regions, GGDs and the Public Prosecution Service should enforce this obligation was unclear. Nevertheless, Minister Hugo de Jonge (Public Health, CDA) announced on Tuesday evening that people whose source and contact research shows that they may be infected with the corona virus, must be quarantined from next week. On Wednesday, he returned to this under pressure from a large part of the Lower House. The obligation will come, but only when there is a detailed plan and that can take a while.
It was the same short-lived drive with which De Jonge announced a corona app at the beginning of April, only to conclude that implementation was more complicated than outlined. And it was the same self-assurance with which he said last Thursday that the source and contact research could still be carried out properly, only to hear the next day that such research was limited in Amsterdam and Rotterdam because the GGD could no longer cope with the work.
De Jonge is ‘fed up’
“You do not want that,” said Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD) about that state of affairs on Wednesday during the inserted corona debate in the House. “Very disappointed,” said De Jonge. But the House was not satisfied with the idea that it had happened to De Jonge. Chaotic, PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher and Think leader Farid Azarkan called it “panic football” according to PVV member Geert Wilders.
For months De Jonge had maintained that the upscaling of the source and contact research was going well. The GGD had made a plan, the cabinet was confident that it would work out. In the summer months, the GGD could initiate 500 to 2,400 examinations per day.
But in the meantime more and more studies are started with a delay, patients in Amsterdam and Rotterdam have to inform their contacts themselves and a source is still found in less than half of the studies that have been launched. The Netherlands is thus losing sight of the spread of the virus, while the number of new infections – 654 on Wednesday – is still at the lower end of the GGD margins.
The numbers of new GGD researchers mentioned in the plan have not been achieved, assumptions about the duration of the study and the numbers of patient contacts appear to be underestimated. De Jonge said on Wednesday that in the coming weeks it will be “accelerated” upscaling to more than 2,000 FTEs – the goal that should have been achieved by the summer.
Did the cabinet have too much confidence that the GGD could scale up so much, MPs wanted to know. And what did the government do when it turned out that this upscaling was not as successful as planned? It remained unclear why the ministry did not intervene earlier: when the corona infections rose in mid-July, the GGD said it was “surprised”.
Minister De Jonge insisted that only last week it became clear that the infections were rising so quickly that the source and contact investigation came into question. He wants the GGD to come up with a new upscaling plan within two weeks.
Both opposition and coalition parties doubted whether this would be fast enough, and whether the upscaling will succeed according to plan this time. “De Jonge says exactly the same as in the spring,” said SP leader Lilian Marijnissen. GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver feared that if the upscaling fails, “the next step is that we have less freedom together, that there will be another lockdown”. According to VVD member Hayke Veldman, De Jonge “did not radiate the urgency that should be there”.
That’s how it was all the balls at De Jonge. As a result, barely discussed the major strategic issues for which Prime Minister Rutte is responsible. He deftly maneuvered himself out of the wind, De Jonge answered the most difficult questions.
It is said in The Hague that the CDA member, who will be the leader in the House of Representatives elections next year, works ‘performatively’: he announces something, in the hope that the announcement will lead to the desired action. In a defensive environment like The Hague, it is sometimes the only way to get things done. That makes both success and failure visible. The more often it fails, the more that strategy turns against De Jonge.
‘Test employee’ page 4-5
A version of this article also appeared in nrc.next on August 13, 2020