The head of the lockdown-exit experts group said they never advised expanding social bubbles to 15 people and chided government officials for miscommunicating on their guidelines.
“Just like the other experts, I was in favour of a smaller social bubble,” Erika Vlieghe, head of the Group of Experts for an Exit Strategy (GEES), said in an interview with De Morgen.
She also hit out at Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon for incorrectly saying in an interview on Thursday evening that she had agreed to the enlargement of social bubbles.
“That [Jambon] suggested on VTM Nieuws (…) that I agreed to keep the social bubbles to 15 people is completely unacceptable to me,” Vlieghe said. “Like the other experts, I was in favour of a smaller bubble, and I said it several times during the meeting.”
Following Jambon’s statements, Vlieghe also said she did not rule out resigning as chief of the GEES if communication to the public did not improve.
“He has apologised to me in the meantime, but if political communication continues as it is, I will consider stepping down as chairperson for the GEES — I am not a front for politicians,” she added.
Following the meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) on Thursday, Vlieghe said that “as a scientist,” she regretted that leaders did not take steps to limit social contacts between residents of Belgium.
“In my opinion, the message must be clear and we have to get it out there: the fewer contacts there are, the better it will be,” she said, adding: “Even ten [people] is too much.”
Vlieghe’s comments in the interview were echoed by those of fellow GEES member and biostatistician Niel Hens, who in a radio interview on Friday said that the group had not given the green light for broader social contacts, a measure that was nevertheless announced by the NSC.
“At the GEES, we never advised to enlarge social bubbles to 15 people, but the announcement was made on 1 July,” Hens said.
“We are in a stage of exponential growth. In one week, the number of infections has doubled — in the province of Antwerp, it’s moving at an even faster speed.”
“It’s very worrying, there is no time to lose and we must give up on certain relaxations, even if temporarily,” he said, adding: “We must absolutely regain control over the curve.”