“The day the national security council relaxed corona measures, the first patients started to arrive at critical care. Both lungs coloured white and they had to be put on their stomach for treatment. I can’t explain such matters to my staff. The authorities knew the figures. It’s already very hard for staff and frustration and anger is added to that.”
Dr Noppen was surprised by the reaction of the regional minister, charged with public health in Brussels, Francophone green Alain Maron, who suggested on TV that there was only a to-do in the media when a Flemish hospital in Brussels experienced problems, while several other hospitals were in an even worse way.
Mr Maron’s colleague in the Brussels regional government, Elke Van den Brandt (Flemish green) later had to concede it had been an unfortunate pronouncement that she put down to ‘stress’.
Quizzed about why the authorities in Brussels had responded so slowly to the signals from health sector, Ms Van den Brandt insisted the Brussels regional government had acted even before the federal government. “We didn’t remain silent for three months. We worked. We developed strategies.”
The minister finally conceded that action had come too late:
“At the point when the virus was floored, we failed to take hold of it by the scruff of the neck. As a politician all you can say, in all modesty, in such an instance is that we have to continue our work.”
But Ms Van den Brandt is also keen to share responsibility: “When we see the situation today I fear that the Brussels government and all Belgian governments should have taken stricter measures sooner, but we did notice the population at large didn’t always have an appetite for this”.
Dr Noppen notes what was needed was crisis management: unity of command and quick decisions, not negotiations: “But in Belgium there are many layers of government. That’s the structure we are gifted.”