Mark Rutte is sticking to his guns on coronavirus — and refused to shut down the Netherlands “for a year, or even longer.”
Lawmakers and health experts have criticized the Dutch governments approach, which they say is too lax.
But Prime Minister Rutte on Wednesday defended his governments stance of developing so-called group (or herd) immunity to coronavirus, deflecting the criticism as a “misunderstanding.”
“The objective of the approach is to not overburden the health care system, as well as protect the elderly and vulnerable,” Rutte said during a parliament debate.
“Immunity is an additional effect, which is built up very slowly over time. It helps, but it is not the objective of the approach — its not a goal to infect as many people as possible.”
Rutte said in a rare televised speech that in “the coming period, a large proportion of the Dutch population will become infected with this virus.
During the debate, which lasted more than seven hours, Health Minister Bruno Bruins collapsed and had to be escorted out of the chamber. He later tweeted: “I suffered from faintness from exhaustion and intensive weeks. Now things are going better again. Im going home now to rest tonight so I can get back to work tomorrow.”
On Monday, Rutte said in a rare televised speech that in “the coming period, a large proportion of the Dutch population will become infected with this virus.
“As we wait for a vaccine or treatment to be developed, we can delay the spread of the virus and at the same time build up population immunity in a controlled manner.”
Jaap van Dissel, a senior expert at the Dutch health agency RIVM and adviser to the Cabinet, said that too much meaning was being given to the phrase “group immunity,” saying it was not the goal of the current measures but a consequence of them.
A medical staffer works in a special department set up for patients suspected of being infected with COVID-19, the new coronavirus, at the Zuyderland Medical Centre in Heerlen | Jean-Pierre Geusens/AFP via Getty Images
However, lawmakers and health experts slammed the Dutch approach, saying much more needs to be done.
Far-right party leader Geert Wilders accused Rutte of conducting “an experiment with people” that could be “catastrophic.”
“How dare the prime minister choose to give millions of Dutch people unnecessary corona,” he asked. His call for a full lockdown was supported by another far-right leader, Thierry Baudet of the Forum for Democracy.
Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst said on Wednesday that the Netherlands will likely soon change its approach. “They still have under 50 dead, but theyre getting close — 100 dead and this policy is changing. And at that moment it is going to be too late, or very late, to take the same measures as Belgium is taking now.”