Former Federal Health Minister Maggie De Block (Open VLD) will not be apologising for the part she played in Belgium’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.
De Block – as well as others including former Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès – have come under criticism for the country’s policy in the early days of the virus. This includes the headline-grabbing news such as when the government was slow to rebuild stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospital staff, after a warehouse full had been destroyed because it was past its use-by date.
Additionally, De Block has also been reported as sceptical about the use of face masks, saying that they gave “a false sense of security” if the other measures, such as social distancing and hand hygiene, were not respected as well.
To De Block, however, she did everything possible to deal with the pandemic at the time, alongside Wilmès government.
“Apologies? I don’t have to apologise. I’ve done the maximum,” De Block told SudInfo. “We may sacrifice some of our freedoms, but sometimes we have to protect them. That was a priority for me. Did you know that terminal patients, and not even Covid, were told that they couldn’t see their partner one last time? I find that demeaning. I tried to avoid such situations and they blamed me for that. I find that incomprehensible.”
Then – June
Speaking in June, De Block admitted making mistakes in her early appreciation of the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, but explained she was overwhelmed because she was working too hard.
In the RTBF discussion programme A Votre Avis, De Block was asked if she did not regret the decisions made in the early stages of the crisis,
“Those millions of masks were destroyed because they were out of date,” she explained. “There were plans to replenish stocks in hospitals – since I am only competent for hospitals – I had asked for a plan from the health ministry. But it was not possible to build up the stock at that time. If it were to be done again, obviously I would recommend masks. Today we have a large stock in case there is a second wave.”
Asked if she is not ready no admit having made mistakes, De Block was clear.
“I accepted my responsibilities. As early as January, I put together a scientific committee. Then the situation worsened, and I was at the head of an inter-ministerial conference every morning from 8 am. I had the concertation committee, the kern, the ministers, the crisis unit. When you ask me ‘did you do anything wrong,’ yes, I did! Because I was hard at work. When you do nothing, you’re not in a position to do anything wrong.”
“I accept my mistakes,” she went on. “And there has been a lot of criticism, even for the responsibilities that are not mine. I understand the anger, I understand that people have had health problems and lost loved ones. I understand the misery.”
Now – December
Speaking now, however, De Block highlights how unusual the current situation is. While it is normal for people in power to be held to account, “we were in unknown territory,” she explained.
Given the knowledge available at the time, she stands by the decisions made. “But history will show whether our approach was the right one,” she added.