Covid-19 measures: tensions among Belgium’s coronavirus experts

Covid-19 measures: tensions among Belgium’s coronavirus experts
Health economist Lieven Annemans. © Belga

A difference of opinion is creating tension between some of the members of Celeval, the evaluation cell made up of experts whose job is to advise the government on epidemic policy, De Morgen reports.

The cell met yesterday, and the debate became heated, particularly in relation to one issue: whether or not the measures in place to stop the spread of the disease should be tightened in the face of a continuing upturn in the number of infections.

In general, the members of the panel who are medical experts are in favour of a purely epidemiological approach, in doing whatever it takes to bring the numbers down. On the other side, there are those who would shy away from tough measures which, as time goes on, are less and less likely to be followed by large portions of the population.

Better to impose measures that have public support than go by the book and have the measures widely ignored, in other words.

The clash was particularly hard between health economist Lieven Annemans of Ghent university and the hard-liners, who accuse him of minimising the seriousness of the virus.

Professor Marc Van Ranst, on the medical side, posted his view on Twitter, all but criticising Annemans by name.

All virologists are warning unanimously that things are moving in the wrong direction, as the number of new cases has gone up 75% in one week, and our R-number is 1.4. A health economist vehemently denies that there are currently more cases, and thinks we need to relax. Good luck!”

Annemans had expressed the view that the number of new cases is shadowing the growing number of tests, stressing the importance of the rate of positive cases as a percentage of tests, rather than a bare number.

Annemans himself took to Twitter.

How should we best deal with the virus at this stage? A. with a culture of fear, drama, misleading figures, disproportionate measures? B. with vigilance, serenity, correct numbers, balanced measures? I would have preferred B,” he posted.

Infectious diseases expert Erika Vlieghe, who previously chaired the Celeval’s predecessor GEES, declined to comment when approached by De Morgen.

Civil servant Karine Moykens, secretary-general of the Flemish region’s department of public health, took a conciliatory tone.

I see Celeval as a group of people who all have the same goal: to ensure that we can present a proposal that has the best chance of being supported,” she told the paper.

If you have to come to a consensus with a large number of people, it makes sense for opinions to clash with each other. I don’t see anything negative about it.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

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