Here is a timeline of the Dutch coronavirus strategy. It aims to be a neutral knowledge resource for anyone interested in the way the coronavirus spread through the Netherlands, and particularly how the Dutch government responded to it.
January was the month in which preliminary plans were made to deal with the coronavirus in the Netherlands.
- January 18th: RIVM is the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. On the 18th RIVM tells a newspaper there is only a 'small chance' that the coronavirus will show up in Europe. 'There are no direct flights from Wuhan to The Netherlands', a spokesperson added. (Article)
- January 22nd: RIVM says they are preparing for a potential outbreak, even though they think the chance of the virus entering the Netherlands is small. (Article)
- January 24th: Health minister Bruno Bruins informs the Dutch parliament that the risk of the coronavirus spreading to Europe is still considered 'small'.(Letter)
- January 27th: OMT stands for Outbreak Management Team. It is part of the Center for Infectious Disease Control which is part of the RIVM. The OMT is the main advisory council to the Dutch government during the corona crisis. On January 27th health minister Bruno Bruins informs parliament in a letter about COVID-19, after having been advised by the OMT on January 24th. The OMT advises to classify the new coronavirus as a category A disease, which means any patient suspected of having been infected, has to be reported to a regional GGD by the main practitioner and laboratory manager. This is a practical necessity for isolation of patients and for contact tracing (+quarantaine). GGD's are municipal health services, they are responsible for doing (a part of the) testing and all contact tracing.
- January 27th: Although there is a chance the virus may spread to The Netherlands, head of the OMT and director of the center for infectious disease control at RIVM Jaap van Dissel says it will probably be limited to just a handful of cases.
- January 28th: RIVM thinks the virus is not very contagious and not easily transmitted between people. (Article)
- January 28th: Thierry Baudet from far-right party FvD requests an emergency debate, because of the lack of border control. Request is denied, February 6th there will be a debate. (Opinion piece listing all the debates and motions up until the end of March)
- January 29th: From now on there is an obligation to report suspected infected cases (disease category A). (Article)
February was later considered the 'lost month'.The virus was being underestimated, while it was already spreading undetected. Allowing carnival to continue and vacationers to visit northern Italy were important factors in increasing the first wave.
- February 3rd: RIVM says we are prepared in case the virus pops up in The Netherlands. (Article)
- February 4th: In the technical briefing to parliament, Jaap van Dissel already mentions (from 01:24:21 onward) the possibility of allowing the virus to spread while protecting vulnerable groups of people:
- February 4th: Jaap van Dissel advises against face masks, stating: 'not a realistic way to slow the spread of the coronavirus'. (Article)
- February 10th: Enormous amounts of PPE flown to China. (Article)
- February 18th-19th: In an international meeting, Jaap van Dissel seems to already be considering mitigation as a strategy.
- February 21st: Woman ends up on ICU Beatrix hospital Gorinchem. Had symptoms for weeks before this.Only later it is found out that she is COVID-19 positive, in retrospect she is the first patient with COVID-19 confirmed. (Article + Article)
- February 23-25: Carnaval is celebrated (main festivities).
- February 24th: RIVM says corona is similar to the flu. (Article)
- February 26th: OMT meeting. First patient with corona symptoms in Tilburg. COVID-19 confirmed 1 day later.
- February 27th: Because of the first official COVID-19 patient, the people are instructed to wash hands more often, sneeze/cough in one's elbow and use paper handkerchiefs.
- February 27th: On the day the first coronavirus patient is confirmed in the city of Tilburg, its mayor greenlights a football match to be held on the following day. (Article)
- February 28th: Van Dissel says Carnaval is not a big issue, since according to him it’s celebrated in small groups of people familiar with each other. The corona outbreak will turn out to be particularly intense in the area's where Carnaval was celebrated. (TV interview with quote + released interview with part of the quote cut out)
- February 28th: Aura Timen is a prominent member of the OMT. She is head of the national coördination of control of infectious disease at the RIVM. On this date she compares corona to the flu, even though she portrays it as having a 2% mortality rate (flu: 0,1%).
- February 28th: Second OMT report, which has a change of tune. It hints at necessary preparations for the fact that it may be too late for containment. It also hints at test material shortages and the possible need for triage.
March is the month wherein the shift is made from an apparent attempt at containment to a mitigation strategy ('maximum control'). First in the province North Brabant, then in The Netherlands as a whole. The 'intelligent lockdown' is introduced. ICU capacity is being increased. There are worries about ICU capacity, fearing an 'Italian situation' even and having to triage patients.
- March 3rd: First meeting MCCb (ministerial crisis management committee). 23 known cases of coronavirus infection in The Netherlands.
- March 3rd: RIVM requests that the government changes the travel guidance for northern Italy. (Article) There is still talk of attempts to 'contain' the virus, but prime minister Mark Rutte indicates that a next phase may be coming where mitigation is necessary: "I can't say anything about that now, but if the numbers are so great that we have to move to another phase, we have to be ready."
- March 6th: Third OMT meeting. Advisory report not to become public until March 11th.
- March 6th: RIVM advises people in North Brabant to limit contacts if they have cold symptoms. (Article)
- March 6th: First official COVID-19 death. (Article)
- March 9th: The Dutch government announces extra measures: Dutch citizens should refrain from shaking hands. Regrettably, prime minister Mark Rutte goes on to shake Jaap van Dissel's hand at the end of the press conference.
- March 11th: the WHO declares the COVID-19 outbreak a 'pandemic'. However, the WHO Director-General goes on to say:
This is a crucial step, the Dutch government seems to do just that. With the removal of the obligation to report new infections, contact tracing is essentially halted.
- March 12th: According to RIVM's protocol it is no longer obligatory to report suspected corona cases, only confirmed cases. Later, someone finds out that there's no legal basis for this. According to the law COVID-19 remains an A disease with obligation to report suspected cases.
- March 12th: Press conference: From now on, meetings with 100+ people are forbidden, people are advised to work from home if possible and to stay home when they have symptoms. It is said that North Brabant has entered the mitigation phase, while containment is still attempted in the rest of the country. In North Brabant, they couldn't find the source for some of the infections and didn't have enough time for contact tracing.
- March 13th: Jaap van Dissel says '50% of the people in the Netherlands may become infected' and: 'The virus will stay with us, we will have to go through this as a society'.
- March 15th: Schools, children day care centers, restaurants, pubs, gyms and more need to close. Pressure from society led to the decision to close schools. The 1,5 meter rule is introduced. (Article)
- March 16th: RIVM states on Twitter: 'Someone who's without symptoms for 24 hours is considered cured'.
- March 16th: Television address by Mark Rutte explaining the chosen strategy (named ‘maximum control’) focused on building herd immunity, not exceeding ICU capacity and protecting the old and vulnerable. You could say this is when The Netherlands as a whole officially enters the mitigation phase. Containment is portrayed as needing a lockdown till vaccine arrival, the only other option portrayed is doing nothing. (Video snippet + Translation) At the time of writing (May 25th), these are still the only possible scenario's according to the RIVM.
- March 18th: Technical briefing.There was some slight upset about the herd immunity strategy. Van Dissel now frames it as (partial) herd immunity not being a goal, but a side-effect. No more upset. He also says that herd immunity explains the course in China. (Original video snippet)
- 3 scenario's are portrayed. 'Maximum control' is portrayed as one wave (strangely still exceeding ICU capacity). Containment is portrayed as a lockdown after which cases will rise drastically.
- March 18th: Geert Wilders (PVV) and Thierry Baudet (FvD) submit a motion requesting full lockdown. All other parties vote against it.
- March 18th: Health minister Bruno Bruins collapses due to exhaustion while participating in a debate in parliament. He subsequently tenders his resignation.
- March 18th: From now on, the GGD's in the north of the country will test more among health care workers, including asymptomatic ones. According to Alex Friedrich (doctor-microbiologist) they are already testing 3-5 times as much per capita at this point. (English article) They also do contact tracing. The outbreak will turn out to be relatively mild in the north (see image May 20th).
- March 20th: Television address by King Willem-Alexander: “we cannot stop the coronavirus”. (Translation)
- March 20th: Ban on visiting elderly care homes (insiders say this should have been announced much earlier).
- March 23rd: The so-called 'intelligent lockdown' is announced. What is forbidden from now on: groups of more than 2 in public places, most contact professions. Children are still allowed to play together, shops and markets can remain open as long as people keep 1,5 meter distance. (Snippet from press conference)
- March 25th: Jaap van Dissel briefly mentions the test/trace/isolate strategy used in Singapore, but dismisses it due to it requiring a large amount of tests and due to a supposedly high risk of later re-introductions.
- March 25th: Newspaper AD publishes an article that mentions Containment Nu! and also the fact that RIVM has not published data about the amount of people that have been tested in the first days of the outbreak. According to RIVM, that information isn't relevant during an outbreak, only afterwards.This article was mysteriously pulled shortly after publication. (Screenshot of deleted article)
- March 27th-30th: FSM publishes guidelines on when to preferably admit patients to hospital/ICU and when not to.(Guidelines here and here). The Netherlands is more reserved than other countries when it comes to this. Although there is a conversation about it with patients when possible, some experience it as being discouraged to seek care. (English article)
- March 31st: Press conference: a more than fourfold increase in the capacity to test is promised, from 4.000 tests performed per day (correct=3.500 max) to at least 17.500 and preferably 29.000. Only a small increase in testing will be recorded in reality, see May 22nd.
April is the month wherein there's a lot of talk about how to go forwards. There is a lot of confusion about what the strategy is and will become. The concept of a 'one and a half meter society' is introduced. The peak in hospitalized patients will be around the 8th and ICU's will be able to cope, but barely and with some patient transfers to other provinces than North Brabant and to Germany. A lot of regular care is postponed.
- April 6th: The OMT has drawn up criteria that must be met in order for measures to be relaxed. The criteria are: 1. R below 1 for a while 2. Care no longer overwhelmed 3. Enough testing capacity. 4. Enough tracing capacity 5. Enough ways to monitor recent spread. Criteria 3+4+5 will not be met when the first measures are relaxed on the 6th of May and even not at the time of writing (May 30th).
- April 7th: Press conference: from April 6th onwards, people who have symptoms and who work with a vulnerable demographic or are vulnerable themselves can get tested. Or so it is promised. The desire to have a tracing app designed is expressed (there will be a competition, but at the time of writing, May 25th, there is still no app).The 'one and a half meter society' is introduced. (Text of speech)
- April 13th: Around this time there are some articles praising Mark Rutte for how he deals with the crisis. The AD newspaper calls him 'guardian of the nation' and portrays him with a royal garment. Support for him has increased from 25-40% in the previous years to 70% now. The article does note that this could change drastically in the future.
- April 19th: In an interview, Jaap van Dissel and Jacob Wallinga (member of the OMT and modeller) defend the strategy of building herd immunity. Van Dissel says any percentage of people being immune will be 'an invisible wall the virus will bounce off of'. Wallinga adds: 'Every immune person counts. But before it is really useful it, it has to rise to 60 percent. I imagine we are hoping for a vaccine or a therapy. But if that doesn't work, by then we'll be well on our way to that 60 percent.'
- April 20th: A newspaper reports that the percentage of people 70+ of age in ICU’s has gone down (41% on March 23th, 30% between April 8-16). (Article)
- April 21st: The ministry of health postpones dealing with corona related WOB requests (=Freedom Of Information request, FOI) till June the 1st and possibly till later, worrying some journalists and some members of parliament. (Article + Article)
- April 21st: Ann Vossen (member of the OMT, doctor-microbioloigist) appears on TV show Jinek and explains that the strategy is to allow the virus to spread slowly, including through children daycare centers and primary schools. (Video on Twitter)
- April 22nd: The OMT advises conditional reopening of schools. (Report)
- April 24th: NVIC (national association for intensive care) publishes a report with calculations of the needed ICU beds and time to reach herd immunity levels (50-70%).
- April 24th: From the 17th till the 24th a survey commissioned by the RIVM is done in which people are asked how they view the Dutch approach regarding the pandemic. According to the survey, 69% is positive or very positive about it.
- April 25th: An investigative TV program criticizes the lack of transparency of the OMT and the lack of scientific substantiation (e.g. very little references given). Notes the confidentiality agreement speakers in the OMT have to sign. (Article)
- April 26th: Jan Kluytmans (member of the OMT, doctor-microbiologist) talks about raising ICU capacity, dreaming of ‘infinite’ capacity. (Original video + Subtitled Video on Twitter)
- May 1st: Mathematician Bert Slagter talks about exponential growth/shrinkage on Dutch tv, advocates for a longer lockdown. (Snippet in Dutch)
- May 5th: 1 million antibody tests are bought to monitor spread.
- May 6th: Press conference: Mark Rutte announces a timetable with the relaxations of measures planned and estimated, e.g. the opening of restaurants, pubs, theaters and museums for max. 30 visitors per June the 1st. ‘Stay at home as much as possible’ becomes ‘avoid busy areas’. Rutte also states that herd immunity is not a goal but a side-effect and that this is the strategy 'everywhere'. Besides that, he says that trying to eliminate the virus would lead to travel restrictions for the Dutch wanting to go abroad, even though the opposite is true. (Official update+transcribed speech).
- May 7th: During the technical briefing, Van Dissel explains that the decision to make non-medical masks in public transport mandatory per June 1st is not based on science and that it was only decided because 1,5 meter distance + a health check questionnaire isn’t possible in public transport. Still against ‘masks for all’, interpreting research in an incorrect way.
- May 8th: From now on, hospital admissions are only registered as COVID-19 admissions if COVID-19 is the main reason for admission. This is because hospitals are testing more patients to prevent spread of the virus in hospitals.
- May 9th: In an interview, Van Dissel and Wallinga state that they are more concerned about people not complying than measures being lifted causing a second wave. There have been and will be more of these kinds of statements (e.g. from Mark Rutte in multiple press conferences, Anne Wensing in a TV show May 10th, RIVM director Hans Brug on TV May 17th, NOS news May 23rd).
- May 11th: Some relaxing of measures: primary schools open (groups are split, kids spend half the normal time at school), children day care centers open completely (was only for kids with parents in vital sectors), outdoor exercise at 1,5 meter distance permitted, libraries open, contact professions get back to work (mask not obligated, just a health check questionnaire when booking/entering). Plans for a lot more relaxing of measures (June 1st, July 1st, September 1st). (Official tweet)
- May 12th: From May the 7th till May the 12th the second round of the RIVM survey is executed. The results: the percentage of people that is (very) positive has increased from 69% to 73,4%, the percentage that is (very) negative has decreased from 6% to 4,7%.
- May 14th: Lodewijk Asscher of the Dutch labour party PvdA wants to talk about the corona strategy and put the containment option on the table. 2 days later Lilian Marijnissen from socialist party SP writes a similar article.
- May 15th: New guidelines released on the planned extension of contact tracing by the GGD’s starting June 1st. The plan is to test everyone with symptoms and trace their contacts. There is critique from some experts (e.g. quarantaine is just advice, too many expected cases, just 5 hours per case). (Guidelines here + here)
- May 18th: GGD director Sjaak de Gouw says that trying to build herd immunity is the only thing that you can do and portrays containment as a strategy that would cause travel restrictions for Dutch people that want to go abroad, even though in reality it would increase the chance of permitted travel. (Original video + subtitled video)
- May 19th: According to a poll done by FNV (federation of trade unions) 60% of personnel working in elderly care homes and in home care still lacks PPE (and 1 in 3 in hospitals, 1 in 6 in postnatal care) Still no guideline that promises a right to PPE (promised by minister of health van Rijn on May 7th). (Article)
- May 19th: Hugo de Jonge (deputy prime minister of the Netherlands and minister of health, welfare and sports) still advocates for increasing ICU capacity from 1150 to 1700 and wants to be able to raise it to 3000 now and then to deal with peaks. Nurses and IC doctors have been saying for weeks that even an increase to 1700 is unrealistic, that there are already too little nurses and that Hugo de Jonge is not talking about ‘real’ ICU beds, with all possible care. (Article by V&VN, trade union of nurses)
- May 20th: In the technical briefing to parliament members, Van Dissel shows that the plan is on and off ‘lockdown’ for years. He shows the effect of doubling ICU capacity and he shows a map with the % of blood donors that have antibodies (3% on average, April 16th), that supposedly indicates immunity. (Tweet) The plan is to try to build immunity by infection and then hopefully complete it with a vaccine.
- He also shows a graph of R, it was just below 1 on May 1st. (Tweet) And he admits a 'mistake' he made last time: The Netherlands has one of the highest mortality rates per 100k in Europe, not one of the lowest.(Tweet)
- May 22nd: Update on tests performed since March 31st: the maximum average was 5.729 per day, the minimum was 4.116 (end date: May 17th). The promise was at least 17.500 and preferably 29.000.
- May 23rd: Even though a 'one and a half meter society' is the goal, restaurants and pubs get permission to seat two people within 1,5 meter of each other when they open on the 1st of June, even when those people are not from the same household. KHN (royal association for the catering industry) admits that it's 'thanks to intensive lobbying'. (Article)
- May 23rd: OMT modeller Jacco Wallinga says in an interview 'The purpose is not to quench the virus. Then you should never relax measures and hold on to everything. A goal is to keep delivering good care. So you don't want ICU admissions to exceed capacity a lot. And then you can calculate back in time what the maximum you can handle is.'
- May 25th: OMT member and doctor-microbiologist Marc Bonten seems to try to downplay the role of herd immunity in the strategy by comparing it to the deaths that would happen without any measures.He says the acquired herd immunity will likely be partial, because it takes a lot of time to build it within the limits of ICU capacity and hopefully there will be a vaccine sooner than that. 'And if not...then it will take a long time before herd immunity will deliver us from the 'new normal'.' He also emphasizes that even immunity of for example 20% of the population can allow for more relaxations of measures.
- May 25th: 147 out of 657 workers at a slaughterhouse (more than 1 in 5) have tested positive, 68 of them Dutch.It is discovered during sample research. Less than 10% of the workers have symptoms. It is the second time an outbreak in an abattoir is discovered.
- May 26th: According to a poll by AOB (general education union) 69% of primary school workers would rather see a continuation of children being tutored in small classes instead of regular sized ones, as is the plan from the 8th of June onwards. 2 in 3 stated that they have worked in their school even though they were afraid of getting infected. The first news items about infections in schools have come out in the previous days (example 1+2+3+4). Some schools close, while others see no problem as long as no one develops symptoms.
- May 26th: According to a poll, the neoliberal party VVD (party of Mark Rutte) would get 44 seats in parliament if elections were held now. That's a gain of 17 seats in 3 months and the highest they have been polled since 2012.
- May 27th: Press conference: it is announced that some relaxations of measures will come sooner than planned. Gyms, sauna's and casino's will likely open on the 1st of July, instead of the 1st of September. Mark Rutte mentions that in the near future, travel will only be possible to countries with comparable rates of infection and not countries with more infections. He doesn't mention that The Netherlands will likely become a 'red zone' and so only able to travel to other red zones or not at all.
- May 29th: The cabinet installs an emergency law and gives the RIVM permission to use anonymized data from telecom masts for a year max. The purpose is to get more date on how people move, where it's crowded and where those people come from. This way there is more recent data on possible spread of the virus.
- May 29th: There is a plan to test a tracing app in the first half of June. It's not sure yet if it can be put into use before the end of the summer.