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The Corona crisis may be over, but the politics of the pandemic response have a very long tail indeed. In the Netherlands, temporary powers evoked during the emergency may shortly be enshrined in law.
Since the end of the hastily-imposed, ill-considered lockdown of last winter and abandonment of the remaining Corona measures in March, 2022, Dutch Minister of Health Ernst Kuipers has been a very busy man. Last April he went, begging bowl in hand, to the Tweede Kamer, the Dutch Lower House, to obtain twenty million euros in additional funding to continue developing CoronaCheck, the QR-code based smartphone app that was deployed in the course of 2021 to control access to cafés, cinemas, and other public spaces based the “3G” criteria: vaccinated, negative test, or recovered. (A system considered discriminatory and invasive by a not insignificant number of the citizenry, including your correspondent, who boycotted it). One might ask: Why persist with the app development? Is Kuipers expecting another pandemic anytime soon? Or perhaps he’s laying the ground groundwork for deploying the EU digital ID that the technocrats in Brussels have been pushing so eagerly for?
Kuipers has also been working hard to get the emergency powers enacted during the Covid pandemic made a permanent part the country’s public health laws. The legislation, nicknamed Pandemiewet (Pandemic Bill), is a set of amendments to the existing Public Health Act; it is now winding its way through the Dutch parliament. The Tweede Kamer, which gave some push-back on the proposed adoption of the aforementioned EU digital ID, returned to its customary supine posture and passed the Pandemiewet on 20 december 2022 after lengthy debate. The bill now goes to the Senaat, the Upper House, for review; the Senaat cannot amend it, only approve or reject it.
In the Dutch political system, the Senaat serves as final arbiter of the general seaworthiness of proposed legislation. Its members are not formally bound by the coalition agreement, and being less involved in day-to-day politics, this legislative body is thought to operate more independently than the Tweede Kamer. The Senaat is slated to vote on the Pandemiewet on 2 February.
De Andere Krant, a weekly newspaper and website, is one of a number of new media organizations which has sprung up in recent years to challenge the monopoly of the censorship-friendly corporate and state-backed legacy media that failed us so miserably during the Covid crisis (and is now doing so again with Ukraine, maybe there is a pattern there?); they published a short article on 8 January, “Invoering Pandemiewet geeft minister van Volksgezondheid ongekende dictatoriale macht” (“The Pandemic Bill gives the Minister of Health unprecedented dictatorial power”). It reports that the proposed amendments include the following provisions:
mandatory social distancing
mandatory protective equipment
access restrictions to public places, public transport and events, for which testing and mandatory home quarantine requirements may apply
mayors to be given additional powers for enforcement, with higher fines for failure to comply
More troubling would be a new provision whereby family doctors (general practitioners) could be required to share personal data with authorities, under penalty of a maximum fine of €4,500 or two months in jail for non-compliance. In the event of an outbreak, your family doctor could be obliged to report the Dutch equivalent of your Social Security Number (US) or National Insurance Number (UK) along with a host of other personal data, including vaccination status, the suspected source of infection, the date of infection and your occupation. This, suggests De Andere Krant, would represent the end of the principle of medical confidentiality in the Netherlands.
Beyond the specifics of the various amendments, a deeply troubling image emerges. Very briefly, as many of you will recall, in the early stages of the pandemic, we began to hear critics of the hastily-adopted strategies speak up. One such figure of note was Martin Kulldorff, a Swedish professor of epidemiology at the Harvard Medical School, who pointed out that a hundred years of infectious disease good practice had been instantly and unceremoniously dumped overboard; previously established conventions with regard to balancing medical concerns with broader societal interests, differentiated risk assessment, responsible public messaging, and much more were simply swept aside. Kulldorff and colleagues presented the Great Barrington Declaration, in which they called for focused protection and a generally more balanced approach.
During this time, Robert F Kennedy, Jr, also drew our attention to the fact that unified response to the pandemic was a highly militarized one, that this militarized approach and been practiced in training sessions for years if not decades, and that our governments all appeared to be acting in lockstep.
In the US, Antony Fauci and his minions worked feverishly behind the scenes to crush criticism and dissent, as did officials here in the Netherlands, as numerous documents released under the Dutch Freedom of Information Act (WOB) clearly demonstrate. Those in charge worked closely with Big Pharma to impose a global, vaccination-oriented solution as the sole exit strategy from the pandemic. That's more or less what they got, at least in Western societies.
In a rational society, you might expect some kind of independent review of the pandemic policies. What did we get right? What did we do wrong? What should we do differently next time? Vestiges remain in the Netherlands of that more rational society. An ostensibly independent parliamentary inquiry was in fact announced last year, and I went to the website of the NOS, the publicly-funded broadcast network which, in my experience, serves as a useful bell-weather for establishment views to find out where things stand. That most recent article on the topic was from July of last year, which indicated the members of the review board had been appointed, a photo of them together was shown, and we were assured “all voices will be heard”. Since then, radio silence (“Arib leidt parlementaire enquetecommissie corona: 'alle geluiden die er zijn horen', NOS 6 July 2022)
Meanwhile, the Dutch Safety Board (Onderzoeksraad voor de Veiligheid) has also been examining the pandemic response. It has already published part of the study, and the following summary was posted on its English-language pages:
The Cabinet did very little to monitor or evaluate the effects of the COVID measures. As a result, little is known about both the desired and undesired effects of the measures. More knowledge about the effects of the measures that were taken would allow the Cabinet to make better-informed decisions in the event of coronavirus resurgences or future pandemics.
(“Effects of COVID measures not clear enough”, 12 October 2022)
Why then the unseemly rush by Ernst Kuipers to embed these egregious, highly questionable top-down measures in the law when even the country's own designated public safety experts have misgivings about their appropriateness and effectiveness? Aren’t we supposed to be following the science here? What’s the hurry?
With regard to the timing, general elections for the Dutch Sentaat are slated for 15 March. In the past, these elections have served as a kind of weather-vane for public opinion, similar in some respects to the US mid-terms. Public confidence in and approval of the government has cratered. The pandemic response and the Kindertoeslagaffaire (the festering childcare benefits scandal that brought down Mark Rutte’s third coalition), had already weakened public confidence in the general direction we’re headed. In more recent months the farmer’s revolt and widespread anger and dismay at the astronomic rise in energy costs suggest a long-overdue round of Regime Change is coming soon to the Hague.
A quick look at the current lineup of the Sentaat indicates the governing coalition holds only 32 of 75 seats; even in its current form, with its highly fractious composition of no less than seventeen parties, approval of the Pandemiewet on 2 February is hardly a given, after the March elections even less so. Kuipers et al can clearly see the writing on the wall. Hence the push.
More generally, why do Kuipers and colleagues so desperately want these measures in place? Taking the most charitable view, there isn't a grand, overarching plan here, just yet another manifestation of the lumbering technocratic bureaucracy plodding ever forward. The denizens of the behemoth scorn public opinion, criticism is “misinformation” (or is it “mal-information”?), the feedback loops and input channels have been ritualized; there’s an iceberg on the horizon but the Titanic cannot adjust course; it’s full steam ahead.
Of course there may be far less generous explanations, with references to Davos, to the philosophy of Malthus, to “useless eaters”, to various and sundry sinister schemes underway. Go there if you must; for my part I’ll stick with images of icebergs and a sinking Titanic — at least for now.
Whatever the motives, the systemic assault on the primacy and inviolability of the doctor-patient relationship, the principle of health autonomy, and equally inviolable principle of genuine informed consent with respect to medical interventions remains under assiduous assault, as does the inexorable march towards a top-down, one-size-fits-all, Pharma-driven approach to healthcare. An utter travesty, like so much in our neoliberal world. One can only hope that the Dutch Senaat understands what's at stake, as do other legislative bodies still purporting to serve the public interest.