Bill Gates, Belgium and a British epidemiologist are being taken to court by hundreds of Belgians who are against all coronavirus regulations and want to get them abolished.
Around 240 Belgians have joined a group called Viruswaanzin, which translates to 'viral madness' in Dutch and was launched by members of the restaurant and hospitality industry, according to their lawyer Michael Verstraeten.
Verstraeten told The Brussels Times that their aim was to get the Belgian government to revoke all coronavirus regulations, which they say trample on their freedoms and have done more harm than good in the current health crisis.
"With no lockdown, there would have been fewer deaths," Verstraeten said. "You have no idea how many people are dying due to lockdown."
On their website, the group regularly publishes posts challenging research and estimates which have driven coronavirus measures in Belgium and abroad.
"We think that other measures are needed, measures which don't limit the economy and the rights and freedoms of people," the lawyer said.
A central argument of the group is that data on the impact of lockdowns on mortality rates remains unclear and that lockdowns would ultimately cause more deaths because of the postponement of non-urgent medical procedures to bolster the Covid-19 response.
Through their civil suit, Viruswaanzin will argue that faulty prediction models were used by governments to make health policy decisions "in a panic" and will seek to obtain a penalty €10,000 per plaintiff for each day the measures remain in place.
"If you take measures out of panic, you can make mistakes and end up with more deaths than if you had taken no measures," the attorney said.
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240 Belgians vs. Bill Gates, Neil Ferguson and the Belgian state
A second, criminal complaint is also in the works and will target not only the Belgian state, but also Belgian virologists, and Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and British epidemiologist, Neil Ferguson.
The group are attacking Gates in court because of his status as a top contributor to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and over his various funding projects into coronavirus treatments and vaccines, while they are going after Ferguson — a top advisor to the WHO and, until recently, to the UK government — for producing mortality and infection rates estimates which they say are "completely wrong."
Dr Ferguson, who stepped down from his role as a government advisor in May after he was reported to have broken lockdown rules, did not reply to a written request for comment.
Since its launch, Verstraeten said that hundreds of other people from across Belgium had rushed to become plaintiffs in the suit, despite the fact that their first attempt to get their case to the courts was rejected on the basis of research done by Dr Ferguson.
For their appearances in court, the plaintiffs have taken to wearing eye-catching plague doctor masks, which Verstraeten said aim to send the message that governments are "pestering" the population with regulations based on information that, to them, is at best uncertain, and at worst, flat out fake.
"More and more people feel bad about these measures, they feel like they are in a completely different society — they don't feel at home anymore," he said, adding that some were even thinking of moving but did not know where.
"There are a lot of conflicts, people are scared and bullied because they have another idea, a different opinion. Scientists don't get their articles published if they don't match the views of the WHO."
Verstraeten, who claimed he had contracted Covid-19 himself, repeatedly compared the coronavirus to the flu, and brushed off the high death rates of the ongoing pandemic as comparable to those of a "severe flu" saying it was "complete nonsense" to say that the novel coronavirus was "killer virus."
Questioned about which sort of measures would be seen as appropriate by Viruswaanzin, Verstraeten said that a central demand was for the government to "properly inform at-risk populations" so that they could decide for themselves which measures to follow.
"What we want is for them to support the health care sector, the hospitals and the health staff on the front lines, and to protect and properly inform at-risk populations, instead of taking general measures applicable to everybody," he said.
After an opening hearing at the Brussels Court of Appeal on Tuesday, pleading for the case will debut on 14 October.
The arguments advanced by Viruswaanzin echo early assessments of the novel coronavirus — which has caused more than half a million deaths globally — as comparable or equal to the flu, including by Belgium's own federal health minister, who referred to the coronavirus as "a little flu" just as the first wave of the epidemic hit Europe.
The group's rejection of the containment measure is akin to the resistance that has emerged in countries like the Netherlands or the US, where large swaths of the population have staged protests against the mandatory use of face masks or the closure of non-essential businesses to fight the spread of the virus behind the current pandemic.
The plaintiff's lawsuit now comes as Belgium rushes to rein in emerging coronavirus clusters by imposing some of the strictest measures in Europe in what officials say are efforts to avoid a new country-wide lockdown.
The Brussels Times