The president of the High Council for Health has criticised the way the government of Sophie Wilmès tackled the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak in Belgium.
Jean Nève was speaking on Friday in front of the special Covid-19 committee of the federal parliament, and singled out the fact that politicians had failed to follow some of the advice offered to them by disease experts.
The majority of the recommendations offered by the High Council were implemented properly, he admitted, singling out in particular the provision of protective equipment, advice on ventilation and blood transfusions.
On the other hand, he told MPs, the council’s advice on mental health was not followed. And in general, the approach at the start of the outbreak was hampered by the lack of a government with full powers and clear decision-making.
Policy was complicated by the division of responsibilities among federal and regional governments, and between health care and prevention.
In addition, he said, the disease itself was minimised for too long, while the governments at various levels showed a reluctance to take unpopular decisions.
One of the pieces of advice that went unheeded, Nève said, concerned the face masks ordered by the defence ministry. The council had recommended the masks – which were ultimately delivered to the public free by pharmacies – be washed at 60 degrees for hygiene reasons.
“While a panel of 20 scientists determined that the masks should be washed at 60 degrees, defence minister [Philippe Goffin (MR)] had found one scientist who advised that 30 degrees was sufficient,” said Nève.