BERGSCHENHOEK, Netherlands (AP) – Residents of a Dutch city signed up at a sports hall on Wednesday to participate in the country’s first mass coronavirus testing program aimed at learning about the spread of a new, more transmissible variant of coronavirus.
The makeshift test center in Bergschenhoek, near the port city of Rotterdam, was set up after 30 cases of the new variant emerged from a group of COVID-19 cases associated with a primary school sweeping through Britain and IrelandHeavily burden hospitals in these countries.
On Tuesday evening, when the Dutch government extended its current lockdown by three more weeks, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said that only 2% to 5% of all COVID-19 cases in the Netherlands are the new variant. But he added that “the expectation is that, just like in England, it will get the upper hand.”
“The only question is how long it will take,” added De Jonge. “And anyone who brings in the dramatic images and stories from London knows that it can get very, very much worse and we have to do everything we can to prevent it.”
Ernst Kuipers, head of a national organization that distributes patients to hospitals, warned lawmakers on Wednesday of the severity of the threat.
“If you get a transfer that goes as fast as it does in England, then there is no care system that doesn’t work in Germany, not in England and not even in the Netherlands,” he said.
Bergschenhoek residents played a role in testing a steady stream of people – from older men and women to young families with babies. The municipality of Lansingerland, to which the city and other surrounding villages belong, wants to test all 62,000 residents over the age of two in the coming days.
The tests took place the morning after Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte extended his country’s harsh five-week embargo, fearing infection rates weren’t falling fast enough and fearful of the new, more communicable variant.
As part of the closure, all schools and non-essential businesses as well as public venues such as cinemas, museums and libraries are closed. There are also strict limits on the size of indoor and outdoor gatherings.
“Almost everyone will understand that there was no other choice because the numbers are not falling fast enough and we now have to face the threat posed by the British variant of the virus,” said Rutte.
Confirmed new COVID-19 infections in the Netherlands last week fell 12% to 49,398, the Dutch Health Institute said on Tuesday. Hospital admissions for virus patients decreased by 18% and new COVID-19 patients in intensive care units decreased by 12%.
The total Dutch death toll from COVID-19 is now more than 12,500.