Jaap van Dissel attended the first corona press conferences and Prime Minister Mark Rutte accidentally shook his hand after he had just forbidden it.

2020 was the year in which the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Control of the RIVM grew into perhaps the figurehead of the corona crisis.

Looking back on the year, Van Dissel talks about how the corona virus attacked the Netherlands in March and what he thinks about being a famous Dutch person.

In January, the RIVM reported that the chance that the corona virus would spread in Europe was small.

Two months later we were in a lockdown.

Shouldn't the alarm bells have been ringing earlier?

"In the beginning we mainly acted on information that was available. That information, mainly from China, initially pointed to a different type of outbreak. That's just the case. Then you have to tilt when new information becomes available."

"I can imagine that some people think: what is strange and what is happening there? First they talk about relatively low risks and a little later that is adjusted. Well, that's how it is. It would also be strange if we were to pretend nothing has changed. Progressive insight into a new virus, of which there is no scientific knowledge yet, is inevitable. I can imagine that it will raise eyebrows, but that is no different. "

When did you have the feeling: this is really going wrong?

"When we realized that the clinical picture by no means always meant pneumonia, high fever and serious illness, but that a significant percentage of sick persons had relatively mild complaints. Especially in young persons it took place almost entirely under the medical radar. really only established in the Netherlands. "

"At the beginning of March, we investigated whether corona could be a cause of mild complaints in a large group of staff from hospitals in Brabant. This was confirmed and at that moment it became clear that the effort that we all would have to make to prevent the spread of times greater than if the new coronavirus only made patients seriously ill. "

"Of course you think: this will be quite complicated, but it is important to take the next step quickly."

Jaap van Dissel, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Control

You come across as a down-to-earth man, but is there a kind of fright after all?

"Of course there is, but at the same time you realize that we have to continue and that the policy needs to be adjusted. So of course you think: well, this will be quite complicated. But I think it is important to get involved as soon as possible. fit and take the next step. "

Did you foresee that we would ever face such a pandemic?

"You know that it is possible. But purely as dry knowledge. The whole actual interpretation, the feeling of it and the fact that we would go into a form of lockdown in the Netherlands, you cannot imagine. From historical interest you read, for example. about the plague and about the Spanish flu of 1918. But it is always difficult to translate that into the current situation. In our society a lot is feasible, but you now see how such a small virus can disrupt that. imagined that it could be, but you still missed the feeling and the interpretation. "

And now you yourself play an important role in a pandemic that will probably still be about 50 years from now.

"I find that complicated. On the one hand because as a doctor I also see the consequences of COVID-19. These can be very personal, because people get sick and sometimes die. I also see the socio-economic consequences. But I am also an infectious disease expert. It would be strange if I did not have a certain fascination with new infectious diseases and outbreaks. Those aspects are now intertwined. "

Did you do everything right during the corona crisis?

"Well, it is not a matter of doing well or not doing well, we are still in the middle of it. This is a crisis with such an impact that I expect it to be evaluated for a long time to come, hopefully, when we are protected with a vaccine. . "

So you don't want to answer that question at the moment?

"I think it's just too early to know enough what the consequences would have been if we had done things differently. All we can do so far is compare countries."

But surely there must already be something you should have done or not said differently?

"Those are many things, but I'm going to keep them for evaluation."

Jaap van Dissel takes off his mouth mask prior to a technical briefing in the Lower House.

Jaap van Dissel takes off his mouth mask prior to a technical briefing in the Lower House.

Photo: ANP

Do you ever visit the supermarket?

"I come there at times when it is as quiet as possible."

The moment you enter the store and put on a face mask, you think: what nonsense, this actually makes no sense at all?

"No, no, no. You shouldn't see it that way at all. That's not what we said either. Look, the OMT has certain views on mouth and nose masks. And then a policy was chosen and that's fine, it must also at some point. If that policy is in place, I will follow it just like everyone else. "

At a certain point the image arose that Jaap van Dissel is against mouth masks.

"It was not a personal matter at all. I represent the OMT. That this is framed in this way via the media, I have an opinion about that, but we will not talk about it now. It has led to this policy, great."

Do you mind that frame of the media?

"That doesn't bother me, it happened. In the end we did say: let's at least make sure that this no longer dominates the daily media, because other things are more important. Isolation at the source is much more important than personal protection. Mouth-nose masks are a final piece to cover one last risk. "

"Reactions should never become threatening, of course."

Jaap van Dissel, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Control

The corona crisis has also ensured that you have become a famous Dutch person.

What do you think of that?

"To be honest, I don't think much of that. The point is that corona affects everyone. Then it is logical that various members of the OMT, including the chairman, will be better known. I expect that once the corona virus is gone, there will be others come forward. That's how it goes. "

Are you looking forward to that moment?

"Let's just say I hope there will be a solution. The sooner, the better and the rest is secondary."

Being a celebrity also means that your house was suddenly featured in a gossip magazine.

"Who finds that interesting?"

Apparently there are people who find that interesting.

"It is beyond my control."

So?

"For me that is not necessary at all, but I cannot influence it further."

Do you also get negative reactions that affect you personally, such as threats?

"Let's just say that I deal with all types of reactions. We are working on something that affects everyone. Few people really benefit from it. Understandably, a lot of types of reactions come up in people. Of course you get all kinds of e-mails and letters. Both positive and negative. Sometimes they are personal and sometimes general. If those responses are in balance, that is good and of course it should never be threatening. I think that is all we need to do about it. say."

Jaap van Dissel arrives at the Catshuis for consultation with Prime Minister Mark Rutte, among others.

Jaap van Dissel arrives at the Catshuis for consultation with Prime Minister Mark Rutte, among others.

Photo: ANP

When can we let go of the 1.5 meter rule?

"That will take a while. It is important that the call to get vaccinated is first responded to very broadly. Then you get a lot further and we can eventually let go of more. That's the aim, that's where we do it. ultimately for it. "

How will you celebrate Christmas?

"In a very limited circle, exactly according to the instructions given for this."

Or is there no room to celebrate Christmas and are you just working?

"I cannot predict that. But there are of course a lot of people who have to keep working at Christmas, because they face critical processes. That may also be mentioned. I hope that we can compensate for next year."

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Rutte himself makes the mistake of not shaking hands after calling