Covid-19: Academics join with experts in criticism of new rules
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Covid-19: Academics join with experts in criticism of new rules

KULeuven rector Luc Sels. © Rob Stevens/KULeuven

The university of Leuven has become the fifth Belgian university to advise its students not to give in to the relaxation of the coronavirus contact rules introduced earlier in the week by the National Security Council (NSC).

In a letter sent to students at the university, rector Luc Sels addresses students and staff on the change to the rules, which replaces the previous ‘bubble of five’ with a more flexible ‘reference number’ of people one is allowed to have close contact with.

The adjustment of the ‘bubble of five’ measure may not be intended as a relaxation, but that is clearly how it is perceived, and that cannot be the intention given the current situation,” Sels writes.

The current figures are very worrying and the number of hospital admissions is rising significantly. If we want to flatten the curve again, now more than ever, we have to keep maintaining the necessary distance, wear a face mask where needed, follow the hygiene measures and exercise caution when we are in contact with other people.”

The preventive measures, he said, are “crucial” and “the central theme of our approach, which is to ensure everyone’s health and safety.”

Earlier, Antwerp university rector Herman Van Goethem launched the rebellion, to be followed by the universities of Ghent, Brussels and Hasselt. The university authorities are concerned that the measures in place already would be difficult enough to follow for students and enforce for the institutions, without introducing what appears to be a loosening of the rules.

And as the universities – the Flemish ones only, for the time being – turn on the new rules, the medical experts, including those advising the government, have also expressed concern.

Three senior doctors’ representatives, Geert Meyfroidt, president of the Belgian Association of Intensive Medicine, Jan Stroobants, president of the association of Belgian Emergency Physicians (BeCEP) and Riel Van Giel, president of GP association Domus Medica, published an open letter to the government.

Without adjusting these [new] measures, we are heading for an avoidable bad sequel to the first wave,” the letter said.

The National Security Council had a unique opportunity to make the transition to a new system for the future. Because yes, the rationale for a number of measures had disappeared and yes, we need a clear and simple system for the coming months,” the authors write.

Some of the previous measures were out of proportion, they agree, such as the need to wear a mask even when alone in the open air. Another problem was the proliferation of local measures which changed from one commune to the next.

But the fact that people have simultaneously created the perception that all measures can be relaxed (more contacts, more parties, shorter quarantine) is catastrophic,” they say.

This, combined with the lack of any framework for the coming months, is a deadly mixture.”

The three representatives conclude by expressing a wish that the NSC will not wait another two weeks before revising its rules.

“The current state of the epidemic currently leaves only one choice: drastically intervening in the areas where things go wrong (for example Brussels), reducing the number of contacts, and tightening up measures. Only then can we keep schools open, rescue part of the economy and save the vulnerable in our society. If not, we are heading for an avoidable bad sequel to the first wave, and that is more than culpable negligence.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times