More than 500 doctors have published an open letter calling on the public to respect the precautions recommended to stop the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19, and criticising the Belgian government for not going far enough with its policies.
The list of doctors who have signed the letter – numbering 506 at the time of writing – includes a wide variety of specialities, including GPs, psychiatrists, gynaecologists and surgeons.
But despite the variety of their specialism, all are agreed on two things: the precautionary measures recommended to slow the spread of the disease in the absence of a vaccine are essential and must be respected; and the government could have done more but chose not to.
The letter is particularly critical of the decision by the national security council taken on June 24 not to make mandatory the wearing of face masks in public places indoors, such as shops, where ventilation is not optimum and where many people are present.
The decision not to go so far was taken, the government said, because there is no widespread public support for such a measure, which would mean it was unlikely to be widely observed.
In addition, the response went, the figures on the epidemic in Belgium show a downward trend, suggesting that measures in place are working.
“However, we seem to be forgetting that this downward trend came during a period of lockdown and with weeks of following strict rules,” the letter replies. “Now that these rules are relaxing, we think it is the perfect time to introduce face masks. A somewhat missed opportunity, then.”
The wearing of a mask, the doctors insist, is an inexpensive but effective measure with no side effects, unlike those resulting from a possible second lockdown. Complaints of risk to health are, the signatories say, “a flagrant falsehood”.
“Moreover, at the beginning of the crisis, a lot of confusion was unnecessarily created by the government, by discouraging the use of face masks and labelling them as useless. In the meantime, it is clear that this strategy was adopted because at that time there were serious shortages. Of course, face masks do make sense — otherwise we wouldn’t need them constantly in hospitals.”
The doctors also take issue with the claim of a lack of public support.
“In our opinion, support is created by clearly explaining what a certain strategy stands for, why certain measures apply and what they hope to achieve. It cannot be emphasised enough that compliance with the measures now can lead us back as normal a life as possible more quickly, with considerably less risk of a second wave.”
And the doctors end by stressing the continued importance of the measures in place. These are:
– Wear a mask in busy public places or where ventilation is poor. – Wear a mask when visiting the doctor. – Observe strict hand hygiene, using water and soap. – Maintain social distancing unless within your own bubble. – Stick to the rules regarding personal bubbles, even as the size is extended from 10 people to 15. – Children are less likely to become infected, but are nevertheless not immune, so hygiene remains important in their case. – Carry out activities within the bubble as far as possible in the open air. – Stay home if you are sick. – Call the doctor if you are suffering from fever, cough, loss of smell and/or taste, headache, sore throat, cold symptoms or shortness of breath. -Children with a fever should not go to crèche or school, but notify the doctor.
“Realise that it is absolutely necessary to get tested when the doctor or contact tracer asks you to,” the letter concludes.
“Testing, tracing, and isolating positive or suspected cases are currently our primary weapons in the fight against the virus.”