THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Netherlands was inadequately prepared for the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic two years ago and the government paid insufficient attention to the threat to people in care homes, according to an independent inquiry released Wednesday.

The Dutch Safety Board said authorities in the Netherlands, where more than 21,000 people are confirmed to have died of COVID-19, “became overly fixated” on hospitals in the early days of the pandemic while focusing too little attention on what it called “an unprecedented impact” on nursing homes, education, cultural institutions, and business.

The safety board’s chairman, former Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, called the pandemic the country’s biggest social crisis n decades.

“The Netherlands proved to be vulnerable,” Dijsselbloem said. “This was due to the structures the government had in place for the health sector and the crisis response: they fell short given the nature and scope of the crisis.”

The 313-page report, the first in a planned series by the safety board, deals with the pandemic from its inception through September 2020.

Its publication came a day after Dutch Health Minister Ernst Kuipers announced that the Netherlands would scrap almost all pandemic restrictions by the end of the month.

The report was critical of the government’s approach to care homes, where about half of the country’s COVID-related deaths happened in the months leading up to September 2020, calling it a “silent disaster.”

The safety board, which said it was important to learn from the crisis, made 10 recommendations aimed at strengthening preparedness for future crises.

The report included a written response by former Health Minister Hugo de Jonge, who was a key player in the political handling of the pandemic. He defended the country’s approach while acknowledging errors,

“Many parties and people — including in my department — ​​delivered extraordinary work. Things went well, mistakes were made, there are countries that have done better and less well,” De Jonge wrote.

He said the government’s care home policies “did not stand alone, but formed an important part of the broader strategy to protect vulnerable people.”

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