THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The leader of one of the parties in Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s ruling coalition joined opposition lawmakers Wednesday in criticizing the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, and in particular of a decision to make some quarantine measures mandatory.
The criticism came during a debate that interrupted the Dutch parliament’s summer recess, and amid sharply rising infection rates in the Netherlands where more than 6,100 people are confirmed to have died of COVID-19.
The attacks by opposition lawmakers – and criticism from one of the parties in Rutte´s coalition – underscored how the broad political support for the government´s coronavirus policy in the early stages of the outbreak is crumbling as infections rise again following the relaxation on July 1 of many lockdown measures.
“If I look at how the Cabinet has reacted over the past weeks, the word that springs to mind is chaos,” opposition Labor Party leader Lodewijk Asscher said as he opened the debate with Rutte and Health Minister Hugo de Jonge.
The Dutch public health institute said Tuesday that there were 4,036 new confirmed infections in the last week, 1,448 more than the week earlier. The confirmed number of people who have died of COVID-19 rose by nine to 6,159. The true number of deaths could be higher because not all people who died of suspected COVID-19 were tested.
The government announced on Tuesday evening that it is planning to introduce mandatory quarantine for people identified by local health authorities as having been in close contact with somebody infected with the coronavirus, and for travelers returning from high-risk countries.
Opposition lawmakers slammed the announcement as a maneuver to draw attention from what they see as shortcomings in contact tracing and delays in testing.
Populist Party for Freedom leader Geert Wilders called the measure “disproportionate. It looks like minister De Jonge is overcompensating for his lack of authority.”
Rob Jetten, leader of coalition party D66, also was critical of the move, which came days after Rutte had stressed at a nationally televised press conference that he did want to impose mandatory coronavirus measures.
Jetten urged the government to increase testing and contact tracing.
“I say to the minister: Get it done. And by that I don’t mean threaten … punishments,” Jetten said.
Rutte defended the decision, saying it was sparked by concerns that people were not cooperating with contact tracers and voluntary quarantine measures.
If people don’t self-quarantine, “there is a real chance that somebody will continue to pass on the virus,” Rutte said. “That is dangerous and that’s why we have been considering for a while what we can do.”
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