Dutch aim to tackle coronavirus outbreak with vast walk-in testing sites

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FILE PHOTO: Spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Alkmaar
FILE PHOTO: Spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Alkmaar

UTRECHT (Reuters) - Dutch authorities opened a vast walk-in coronavirus testing site in the central town of Utrecht this week, capable of 800 tests an hour and delivering results within 24 hours, as the country seeks to boost its ability to quickly spot new outbreaks.

"This is an extra-large facility", Utrecht's testing facility supervisor Gerben van Manen told Reuters.

It will shortly offer tests which can give results within a few hours.

The site in Utrecht is the second of eight large Dutch facilities, which are intended to finally end the shortage of testing and lab capacity which has hindered the country's fight against the coronavirus since late February.

The government tried to boost capacity during the first wave of infections when tests were initially limited to the seriously ill. After the ramp-up, everyone with any indication of a possible coronavirus infection was urged to get tested.

But authorities quickly had to backtrack on that advice when the second COVID-19 wave hit the country early in September, and when the Netherlands became one of Europe's coronavirus hotbeds.

The number of new coronavirus cases in the Netherlands declined around 15% over the past week to the lowest level since early October, as all bars and restaurants have been closed for over a month.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Tuesday said that the country's path out of the crisis in 2021 would involve a mix of "mass vaccinations, good-working medicines, and even more and even faster testing."

(Reporting by Bart Meijer and Piroschka van de Wouw; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)