The Story from Northern Netherlands: To Test or Not to Test?


Every human life is precious and sacred and saving one is like saving the whole of humanity. (Al Quran 5:32/33)

Coronavirus: North Netherlands stopped following national advice. Here’s what happened

Source: The Irish Times

By Naomi O’Leary 

Starkly different outcomes in some regions of Europe indicate how better to fight the virus

According to the official Dutch count, there have been 4,795 coronavirus deaths in the Netherlands. This is an underestimate: it only includes people who tested positive, and mortality data suggests actual deaths are 40 per cent higher. It also disguises deep regional differences.

In the worst-hit region of North Brabant in the south, twice as many people died between March 16th and April 5th, 2020, than in the same period last year. But in the northern region of Groningen, home to a university city the size of Cork, deaths were just 4 per cent higher in the same period.

What can explain this stark difference in a country half the size of Ireland that is one of the most densely populated in the world?

The man held partly responsible is Prof Alex Friedrich, a virologist and head of microbiology and infection control at the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG), the major hub of medical care in the northern Netherlands.

Friedrich announced on March 19th that the north was departing from national Dutch policy. While the public health agency would be restricting testing to only severe and priority cases, he announced the north would follow the World Health Organisation’s advice: “test test test”.

“In the Netherlands, in our country, they said that diagnostics is interesting for statistics but not important for the fight against the disease. There I strongly disagree,” Friedrich told The Irish Times.

Prof Alex Friedrich: “Herd immunity can never be a public health strategy. It can never be controlled, and it means people will die, and if you are not very careful a lot of people will die.” Photograph: UMCG
Prof Alex Friedrich: “Herd immunity can never be a public health strategy. It can never be controlled, and it means people will die, and if you are not very careful a lot of people will die.” Photograph: UMCG

The UMCG set up a test centre on its grounds, hired medical students for extra staff, and asked the local health authorities to direct people there for screening.

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