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Minister says rapid testing will allow campuses to reopen in the spring


The Dutch Minister of Education, Ingrid Van Engelshoven, expects part of the higher education students to be able to return to campus safely, thanks to rapid coronavirus tests. According to Dutch newspaper Trouw, the government has huge amounts of such tests ready to go.

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It looks like the Ministry of Health has 26 million of such tests in stock. A whole warehouse full, Trouw reports (link in Dutch), with more shipments being added weekly.

That’s because the tests are being purchased at a faster rate than they’re being used. The original idea was to carry out preventive tests on a large scale among people without symptoms. But this plan is moving at a snail’s pace.

Trade unions inquired whether those tests could be used to reopen schools faster. One of them, CNV Onderwijs, feels like the issue is being strung along by the government. “We should be using those tests to get children back in school safely”, the union is quoted by the newspaper as saying. “If rapid tests are available, it’s really unbelievable that this isn’t happening”.

The Minister of Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven, also sees an opportunity in the surplus of rapid tests, but she doesn’t want to get ahead of herself. She expects that rapid testing will allow all institutes of higher education to open (partially) in the spring. “We want to do that as quickly as possible, as long as it’s safe and responsible to do so”, she told ANP.

Her spokesperson indicated to another newspaper, NRC, that the rapid tests can’t be deployed on a large scale without the possibility of self-testing. Right now, the tests have to be carried out under the supervision of a medical professional.

Last month, in his remarks to the Parliament, outgoing Minister of Health Hugo De Jonge mentioned eight rapid test and self test pilots which are currently up and running. By testing school pupils and higher education students in advance (that is: before they become symptomatic), they will be able to return to the classroom in relative safety.

De Jonge told the Parliament he wished that everyone could have a rapid test at home “next to their toothbrush”. But all kinds of legal questions have to be answered first.

According to Maurice Limmen, of the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences, these institutions are ready to scale up the rapid testing pilots. The results of the current pilots will be announced in May.

The Outbreak Management Team, the office responsible for advising the government how to deal with the pandemic, is meeting again today to discuss the latest measures. In a tweet, the association of Dutch universities, VSNU, asked higher education not be forgotten and called for face-to-face education to start again as soon as possible.

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