Belgium needs a set of predictable and stable long-term rules instead of a series of panicked last-minute decisions to navigate the coronavirus pandemic, says Erika Vlieghe, infectious disease expert and chair of the GEMS expert group.
Despite the Consultative Committee already meeting twice in the past two weeks to decide on stricter rules, the ministers will again meet on Friday to discuss new measures, a government source confirmed to The Brussels Times on Thursday.
“What we are doing now is too unpredictable,” Vlieghe told VRT on Wednesday evening. “That gets on everyone’s nerves, both those who make the decisions and those who live with them.”
Vlieghe argued for a more sustainable way of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. “We are talking about medium-term measures. Months, possibly longer.”
While everyone wants society to function as normally as possible in a few months, “this is not the first time we have thought about longer-term measures, we have been working on that for over a year.”
The ‘coronavirus barometer’ – which was much-discussed, much-delayed and eventually never used – disappeared from the radar for some time, “but not for us,” said Vlieghe.
“I think it is a good idea to move towards a system that links the epidemiological situation to a number of objective parameters (such as hospital admissions, ICU occupation) and things that you can do to keep things under control,” she said. “Whether you call it a barometer or give it another name, it makes no difference to me.”
In fact, those codes already exist, and they are used in the reports of the RAG (Risk Assessment Group) every week, Vlieghe explained. “At the end of the day, we should move towards something more predictable,” she said. “Measures that we can all see coming.”
“When winter comes, you put winter tyres on, that is an automatism,” Vlieghe said. “With such a barometer, we could introduce that.”
Her statements follow a sudden call by Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon on Wednesday to scrap all indoor events, citing the dire situation in the intensive care units in the hospitals.
This led to a last-minute GEMS meeting on Wednesday evening, at the request of Corona Commissioner Pedro Facon, to draw up advice for possible new measures.
At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke also seized the moment to support Jambon’s proposal.
“Indeed, we will have to limit our contacts even further. It is very clear that indoor activities are difficult to secure,” he said. “That applies to youth activities, to education and also to other sectors, such as cultural events.”
‘Too chaotic and unpredictable’
Vandenbroucke said that he, like Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, found it useful to reflect on what should be done to bring indoor activities “in line with what is needed.”
On Thursday, the Corona Commission will analyse the latest GEMS advice and issue an opinion to De Croo, Vandenbroucke and Interior Affairs Minister Annelies Verlinden. This will then be used as a basis for the Consultative Committee meeting on Friday morning.
In the meantime, several politicians have already spoken out against another meeting, with party president of the Flemish liberal Open VLD party Egbert Lachaert saying that “we can’t have a Consultative Committee every three days.”
Vlieghe agreed, saying “everyone feels that this is not okay. This is all far too chaotic and unpredictable.”