Former crisis centre spokesman slates Belgium’s Covid approach

Quizzed about how Belgium dealt with the corona crisis microbiologist Emmanuel André told the magazine Nature that Belgium was hindered by politics.  The scientist is the former Francophone face of Belgium’s national crisis centre and played a key role in communicating to the public at large during the crisis.

Prof André claims Belgium was ill-prepared at the start without stocks of personal protective equipment and too few doctors, nurses and lab technicians.  He argues that this was the result of the dismantling of a health system constructed over centuries.  In recent decades the cohesion between preventative and curative care was broken he says.

Belgium’s lack of preparation exacerbated a number of challenges the country would face during the crisis: its aging population, its dense population that is extremely mobile.

Prof André says Belgium’s nine different ministers charged with health issues responsible to six different governments of different compositions formed a further obstacle as did the time it took to establish a new federal government.

All this led to a collection of uncoordinated advisory committees with overlapping fields of competence.  Their composition relied on the whims of politicians. Prof André notes that when in September it became clear a second wave was on the way in the most important advisory committee some virologists were replaced by a lobbyist and a former post office chief.

The scientist argues that for months not a single politicians took the responsibility of drawing up a long-term plan with clear thresholds to execute control measures for the disease.

He accused some politicians of pressing for relaxations to boost their popularity and in the hope of limiting economic damage. This resulted in a longer lockdown and more economic damage.

The microbiologist says we should not be led by our hopes in 2021: a fully operational control and tracing system is required as not everybody will have access to the vaccine at once and some will hesitate to get the jab. Prof André urges the scientific community to continue to cross borders between counties and scientific disciplines in 2021.     

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