Although days go by when many do not think about COVID, yesterday the two-minute debate “Developments around the coronavirus / pandemic preparedness” took place in the House of Representatives, following the May 10 committee debate. In this blog, a brief look at what the House is currently focusing on in the political discussion on COVID.
The double title of the debate already gave an insight into how the House is currently approaching coronavirus policy: it makes sense to link developments around coronavirus to pandemic preparedness. From a short-term crisis approach to long-term policy. Is this also what we see reflected in the content of the coronavirus debates? The House discussed roughly four topics:
1. The consequences of post-COVID/long covid.
Most MPs yesterday voiced concerns about long-term health issues that some people are left with from infection. Much is still unclear about this. Pieter Omtzigt requested that a widely supported definition of post-COVID be developed in consultation with patients, doctors and nurses. It was also a matter of providing perspective: how do we compensate care workers who suffer from post-COVID symptoms incurred while doing their job? Who exactly is entitled to compensation and how high should the amount be? Labour (PvdA), Greens (GroenLinks) and Socialists (SP) jointly submitted several motions about this. Also, several parties submitted motions to improve the investigation and treatment of post-Covid.
2. The analysis of the crisis approach
The House of Representatives is eager to learn lessons from the crisis approach during the coronavirus outbreak. This is not only about improving pandemic preparedness, but also about truth-telling. Based on what information were what decisions made at the time? The Ministry of Health says it cannot cope with the large number of Woo requests for information – much to the irritation of some MPs. Yesterday the House also debated the critical second partial report of the Dutch Safety Board on the corona crisis. How does the cabinet look back on harmful side effects of some measures such as school closures and curfews? All this ahead of the pending parliamentary inquiry that the House expects to establish the committee for before summer. And with the start of hearings presumably years away.
3. Pandemic preparedness
When “pandemic preparedness” is mentioned in the House, it is often about healthcare capacity. It is also about, for example, availability of medicines and resources at the time of a health crisis. Also discussed is the strengthening of public health, the Municipal Health Services (GGD’en). Is there sufficient structural funding for this? In yesterday’s two-minute debate, MP Judith Tielen (VVD – Conservative Liberals) also looked at pandemic preparedness for other viruses. Indeed, surveillance of sewage water came up in the committee debate. To what extent are there other signaling possibilities? In this context, the minister referred to the role played by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) looking broadly at diseases with pandemic potential.
4. The coronavirus remains among us
Meanwhile, we are currently dealing with a virus that puts tens of people in the hospital every week and it is unknown how it will develop in the fall. Except for a motion by Nico Drost (CU – Christian Party) – which asks the government to carry out much more actively the current advice to stay at home in case of symptoms in order to prevent COVID infection – it was noticeable that MPs are currently not much concerned with how people (and especially risk groups) can be better protected in the short term. It seems that there is currently a sense of adequate safety and protection. Of course, the RIVM (monitoring) and the Health Council (independent Dutch advisory body) are not sitting still in the meantime. Before summer, the Health Council will issue an opinion on whether a vaccination campaign is needed in the fall, for which groups and with which vaccine.
With the changed epidemiological situation, it is clear that the focus in debates on coronavirus has evolved from short-term thinking to long-term planning. The topics mainly covered are: post-COVID management, crisis management analysis and pandemic preparedness. In terms of coronavirus information, what is in store for us in the short term? Before summer, the House will receive the plans regarding the structural investment in GGDs; in summer the Health Council’s advice on the Vaccination Strategy for the medium term will follow; in the meantime, the Ministry of Health is working on embedding the corona vaccine in the regular vaccination program; after the summer, the policy response to the Council of Public Health & Society (RVS) report ‘On our health – the need for a stronger public health care system’ will be shared; and in the third quarter a letter about the vaccination program for adults will follow. The House will want to ask questions – how will all these plans alone land in the already tight national budget? For now, it is safe to say that the House will not be done with the coronavirus and pandemic preparedness.