On Friday, the government sent a proposed law for the introduction of ‘test certificates’ to Parliament for approval. The idea is that, in the near future, people will be able to return to museums, events and cafés if they can offer proof that there is no danger they will infect others.
Even as the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic is still underway, just about everyone has had enough of the restrictions. Test certificates could be part of the solution: people who are not carriers of the virus can enjoy more freedoms.
But mandatory testing “affects fundamental rights”, the government acknowledges in its explanatory notes, such as the right to physical integrity and the right to privacy. Therefore, the government would preferably like to deploy test certificates only for non-essential sectors. You don’t necessarily have to go to a café or museum if test certificates are against your principles.
Institutions of vocational education and higher education are, however, considered essential. Nonetheless, the government wants to make test certificates mandatory for students, the draft bill says, because the coronavirus measures are having a tremendous impact. According to the government, only one-third of physical education was able to go ahead in the fall, and it’s much less since the start of the new lockdown.
The ground for this decision is that education is more than knowledge transfer. Contact with fellow students and with teaching faculty is of ‘essential importance’ to students. The government is worried about student development and programme completion during the pandemic.
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However, the government will only enforce the test requirement in a worst case scenario, according to the proposed legislation. Educational institutions will first be obliged to try to organise everything within the coronavirus restrictions, and perhaps voluntary self-testing will prove to be sufficient.
If it comes to the worst, then those who staunchly refuse will have to be given an alternative to physical teaching. They could continue with online classes, for example.
Teaching faculty and other staff will not be required to produce a negative test. Incidentally, this will also apply to the personnel of cafés, museums and other venues. The government’s ground for exception is that a mandatory test would be a serious violation of rights, because refusal could mean losing your job.
The Council of State, which advises the government on proposed legislation, has certain criticism of this approach. Making an exception for staff (and hence for teaching faculty) undermines the objective of the draft bill, the Council maintains. And what can employees do if their colleagues won’t get a test?
The draft bill has been posted online for consultation, thus the government’s thinking was made known previously. The consultation drew more than 5,800 responses, including from people who think that the coronavirus isn’t really all that dangerous and those who are afraid of mandatory vaccination. But the virus is dangerous, was the government’s response, and this proposed law doesn’t deal with vaccination at all, but with testing.
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The government has reserved almost half a billion euros for self-tests for those in higher education. Students seem to have little interest in self-testing, Avans, HAS University of Applied Sciences and Koning Willem I College reported after a pilot. Without coercion or reward, it looks like a waste of money, but many in politics or higher education couldn’t care less.