Professor Marc Noppen, CEO of the Flemish university hospital UZ Brussel, has come in for criticism after he appeared live in a TV studio yesterday evening while apparently suffering, as he put it, from “a bit of a cold”.
Prof. Noppen was appearing on the VRT current affairs programme De Afspraak to discuss the current situation of growing numbers of hospital admissions putting pressure on resources.
Presenter Bart Schols asked him on camera how he was feeling, to which Noppen replied, “I have a little bit of a cold.”
Schools then asked if he had been tested to rule out Covid-19.
“I’m going to get tested,” Noppen, himself a specialist in respiratory disorders, replied. “But it has nothing to do with COVID-19 at all. It’s just my annual cold.”
The response came in for heavy criticism, particularly on social media.
The VRT republished an opinion piece written for its own website earlier this month by Antwerp GP Sophie Van Steenbergen, in which she describes a situation she encounters all too often.
“People still think that Covid-19 is an exotic disease, far from their daily lives, and that they themselves can certainly feel the difference between a bad cold and corona,” she wrote.
“But that’s not true. And you can’t always blame people for not knowing this. The focus in the media is very often on the bubbles and on the political upheaval. What really matters, the basis, is still unknown to many people.”
As long as people fail to abide by the basic rules, she argued, the epidemiological details will go straight over their heads. The simple rule: Stay home if you feel unwell and call your family doctor, ought to be the main headline on the television news.
“No, you don’t go to see your elderly parents with a bad cold. No, you’re not going out to dinner with friends with your cough, even if you think it can’t be corona.”
Contacted by the VRT to get a reaction to the criticism, Noppen replied, “I got tested last week. I understand the surprise on the one hand, but at the moment a million people have a classic cold. I am not sick, and I do not have a fever. I work 14 hours a day, I attend a lot of meetings, and then my voice sometimes drops out. I would like to go into isolation for 14 days, but only when we have half-empty hospitals. I have also had no high-risk contacts in the past week.”