With new, stricter rules on staying home and social distancing when out and about, the government hopes to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, so that the pressure on medical services does not become too great.
Dr. Jan Matheï is not so sure. He is an abdominal surgeon at the Maria Hospital in Overpelt in Limburg province. Earlier this week he posted a message of desperation on Facebook, angry at the nonchalance of the public he saw around him, to all appearances acting as if there were no crisis at all.
At the supermarket, he waited in the car to see how busy it was.
“Huge crowd, little social distancing: as if this was a great chance to catch up with each other. I drove on and put on gloves to take bread out of the vending machine. It seemed the safest way.”
That was before premier Sophie Wilmès announced the latest lockdown.
“People still don’t get it,” he wrote.
“And that’s why I think the government is being irresponsible, and has to force people to be responsible. Do it. Do it for us: nurses, doctors, paramedics and all kinds of other emergency services. We are the ones who will be there in a few days, standing by the beds of those who thought it was all one big laugh. At the risk of our own lives.”
The virus, he explained to the VRT, takes five or six days from infection to the appearance of symptoms. This week or next will be the crucial time.
“Then we will pay the bill for the gatherings of last weekend,” he said.
“Fortunately the measures have been toughened up since yesterday. The government has to take its responsibility if the people won’t.”
The Maria Hospital has set up a second emergency department to deal only with incoming coronavirus patients, which is due to come into service tomorrow.
“At this moment it’s not required, but we want to be properly prepared for the serious problem that’s heading our way,” he said. “Not like in Italy, where they’re running to catch up with the facts.”
His Facebook message concludes with a quote from Professor Marc Van Ranst, the head of the country’s reference laboratory. “For those who still don’t understand that this situation has to be taken seriously.”
“This crisis is exactly the reason why we go and study medicine, nursing and all the other care professions, because exceptional circumstances require exceptional efforts from exceptional people. The risk of being infected yourself is a risk that everyone in health care accepts. It’s part of everyone’s duty, and that duty will be carried out by every one of us.”