Measures and actions against the spread of the coronavirus shall be taken at all levels of government. Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the government, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, Minister Bruins of Medical Care and Sport and the Municipal Health Service. Fortunately, these measures are well communicated in society in every possible way, but on what basis are these measures proclaimed?
At international level, agreements have been made by WHO member countries in the International Health Regulations on how to tackle epidemics and pandemics.
These agreements from the International Health Regulations have been elaborated by the Netherlands in the Public Health Act. This Act is the national legal basis for the government in combating infectious diseases. The powers are divided on the basis of 3 groups of infectious diseases; group A, B (B1/B2) and C. These groups are classified according to the infectivity of the infectious disease and the danger to public health. The coronavirus (COVID-19) has been placed in group A by Minister Bruins, the highest group.
This means that the control of the coronavirus has been placed in the hands of the chairmen of the security regions. The security regions are regulated by the Security Regions Act. These are public bodies (i.e. with administrative powers) in which the municipalities – represented by the mayors – from a certain region cooperate for the safety of the inhabitants and visitors of that area and the handling of disasters and crises. Here you will find an overview of the 25 security regions. The chairman of each security region is elected from among the cooperating mayors.
The Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport – whether or not through the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment – is in charge of the combat. He can instruct the chairmen of the safety regions on how to act and can even order them to take certain measures. The strange thing is that so far only Minister Bruins, Minister for Medical Care and Sport, has been seen in the media. This seems to suggest that he is in charge (see also his indication of the coronavirus in group A) of the combat and not Minister De Jonge, but of course it is very well possible that Minister De Jonge is working hard behind the scenes.
The measures to deal with the coronavirus are taken at societal and individual level. These are also described in the Public Health Act and are the following:
Focused on individuals
- hospitalisation of (suspected) infected persons for isolation purposes
- have persons placed in isolation examined by a doctor
- pursuant to judicial authorisation, persons placed in isolation to be examined internal by a doctor
- quarantining of (suspected) infected persons in their own home or in another place
- prohibition on engaging in professional or trade activities
In this crisis, the chairman of the security region is authorised to take the above decisions. The decisions are implemented by the local Municipal Health Service. From the image that the media sketches of the individual measures taken since 27 February 2020 (first finding of corona contamination), it appears that all persons affected voluntarily comply with the measures, but the Municipal Health Service is allowed to apply coercion and, if necessary, to enter any place (including a house!) without permission.
Focused on buildings, goods and means of transport
- checking premises, buildings, means of transport or goods for the presence of contamination
- hygiene requirements
- disinfecting land, buildings, means of transport or goods
- close down buildings or land or parts thereof
- prohibiting the use of or access to means of transport
- destruction of goods
As mentioned above, the security regions are implementing these measures. They do this by issuing emergency decrees (such as this decree for the Utrecht safety region) in which these announced measures are formally adopted, subject to a penalty of 6 months’ imprisonment or a fine of up to EUR 8,700.
Another measure at the societal level that the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport can take in consultation with Minister Grapperhaus (Justice and Safety) and Minister Knops (Interior and Kingdom Relations) is to decide how – in the event of an threatened shortage – the vaccines and medicines required for the treatment of patients with the coronavirus will be distributed. Fortunately, such a decision has not yet been announced until the present day (16 March), but pharmacists are seriously concerned about the availability of medicines.
There are also separate measures and facilities for airports, ports, aircrafts and ships. These subjects have been excluded from this article.
With this background I hope to contribute from my profession to the understanding of and support for all measures. Furthermore, I conform to the role of obedient citizen and try to contribute to the battle against the coronavirus in this way as well. I take the measures and advices to heart. I work at home, do not hoard (it is really not necessary), avoid social contacts, try to look out for our vulnerable fellow human beings. Please do that as well. It is only by being strong together that we can quickly overcome this crisis.