A number of leading experts advising the government in the fight against the coronavirus have expressed their views in a common blog post, even as they announced a ‘vow of silence’ regarding their media appearances, in protest at the way the politicians have approached their advice.
The experts include virologist Marc Van Ranst and infectious diseases specialist Erika Vlieghe, who was head of the group of experts working out an exit strategy from the lockdown.
microbiologist Emmanuel André, health economist Philippe Beutels, economist Mathias Dewatripont, bio-statisticians Niel Hens and Geert Molenberghs, epidemiologist Pierre Van Damme, and psychologists Omer Van Den Bergh and Maarten Vansteenkiste.
In the post, which lays out the evolution of the epidemic to date, tying the ups and downs of the curve to the measures in force, the signatories take aim at the latest measures announced this week by the National Security Council.
Those included the removal of a limit on guests at functions organised by professional organisers; a relaxation of the number of close personal contacts, and the end of the obligation to wear a mask out of doors at all times.
The new measures were greeted as a broad removal of restrictions, to the extent that prime minister Sophie Wilmès made a fresh announcement the next day that the population should prepare itself for new tougher restrictions if the number of cases of Covid-19 continued rising.
“Study of the main sources of transmission teaches us that in the social sphere we must ‘secure’ our contacts: we are allowed to have quite a few, but in a safe way (for example at a distance, with mask, out of doors). We should limit the number of closer contacts,” the post argues.
“What we argue for is that a clear goal be set, not only ‘flatten the curve and we’ll see,’ because that leads to an uncontrolled rapid relaxation, but rather a level of circulation that we find feasible, and that we try to achieve calmly with measures that are not too complicated, but are well understood and communicated clearly.”
In the meantime, the experts have decided to withdraw from public view, as it has become too difficult to perform two tasks simultaneously: explain the figures from an epidemiological point of view, as well as lay out the social and political possibilities arising from the figures.
“Let the politicians now speak up for the decisions they make, and where they should bear the responsibility,” is the consensus within the group, one member told De Standaard.