Since the first appearance of the novel coronavirus and the Covid-19 pandemic, the news in Belgium has been largely filtered through the scientific institute for public health, known as Sciensano.
Now two other august bodies, the Royal Academy of Medicine (ARMB) and the Royal Academy of Sciences, Letters and Fine Arts (ARB) have issued a statement accusing Sciensano of exercising a “monopoly” over public policy, and of making “arbitrary and opaque decisions” on policy.
The arrival of the crisis, the academies say, led to a reaction of urgency and improvisation, despite the new virus and its effects having been known in Wuhan in China for two months previously.
Despite the forewarning, however, the disease arrived in Belgium to find the country lacking any prepared and suitable plan for tackling it. And, the two academies go on, there is now still not “a solid plan which would allow Belgium to face a second wave of contamination or even the appearance of a pandemic of another type”.
“So far, we have had to think in the short term,” writes Professor Jean-Michel Foidart, permanent secretary of the ARMB. “Today, we must also work on the medium and long term. Some decisions taken in recent weeks have been taken despite international scientific recommendations. Our two Academies are politically independent, which is a guarantee of transparency and consistency for the population.”
Belgium was not well-prepared to deal with this pandemic, Prof Foidart goes on, “It is essential that this does not happen again. We are in a race against the clock, Belgium cannot afford to neglect the skills of the Academicians.”
Now that the daily numbers are dwindling, and the country has entered the test-trace-isolate phase of the pandemic, the academies are demanding “that a series of decisions that put our country in danger and on the sidelines of what the international health authorities advocate, be clarified and reviewed.”
Those include the policy of testing.
“The policy applied to rapid serological tests is incoherent: despite an order for one million rapid tests, the use and reimbursement of these remain prohibited on our territory. There is also an urgent need to reassess the criteria for the ordering and reimbursement of other forms of serology. Finally, the epidemiological studies essential to monitor the rate of penetration of the virus are unreliable as things stand, because they are the result of local initiatives and are therefore not coordinated.”
Ultimately, the statement says, the confusion and incoherences of the decisions made on the basis of Sciensano advice have led to a loss of confidence and a sort of defiance on the part of the public.
“At these crucial moments to the control of the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, it is vital to re-establish confidence and credibility between the decision-making bodies and civil society,” the statement concludes.
At the time of publication, Sciensano had not yet responded to the criticism of the academies.