Dutch coronavirus cases spike as test capacity seen at risk

Amsterdam begins an "experiment" with mandatory face masks in the busiest streets of the city

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The number of new coronavirus cases in the Netherlands hit a record high for the third consecutive day on Thursday, the health ministry warned that test capacity was not nearly enough to deal with the wave of possible infections expected in the coming months.

Testing and lab capacity would have to be expanded from the current level of about 30,000 tests per day to 55,000 per day in November, up to 70,000 in December and 85,000 per day from February, the ministry said.

“We are doing everything we can to expand our capacity, but it is not sufficient as yet”, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a debate in Dutch parliament on Thursday.

Testing capacity has already been severely strained in recent weeks, forcing people across the country to wait days for a test, as health authorities said too many people without clear COVID-19 symptoms were applying for one.

The daily rate of infections has surged in recent weeks, reaching a record level of 1,753, to a total of 88,073 on Thursday.

Belgium and Germany on Wednesday advised against unnecessary travel to cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam and their surroundings and said that travelers from those regions would be submitted to a 14-day quarantine.

The current shortage of tests in the Netherlands follows a previous ramp-up of capacity during the first wave of infections when tests were at first largely limited to the seriously ill. After the ramp-up, everyone with any indication of a possible coronavirus infection was urged to get tested.

Authorities have already backtracked on the promise that tests will be available for anyone at any time, and are now again calling on people to only get a test if they have serious health issues.

(Reporting by Bart Meijer; editing by Jason Neely; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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