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Covid-19: Politicians and virologists clash over measures

Pierre-Yves Jeholet, minister-president of the French Community. © Belga

Scientists leading the fight against Covid-19 have reacted angrily to a suggestion that the latest protective measures should be reviewed earlier than planned.

The suggestion came first from Pierre-Yves Jeholet (MR), minister-president of the French Community, in a Twitter post.

I demand that a meeting of the Consultative Committee be held on 18 December to analyse the impact of the latest measures and the evolution of the epidemiological situation, in order to be able to consider a possible relaxation before the end of the year. The deadline of 15 January seems to me to be too far off.”

Jeholet was lending his voice to an appeal made earlier by his party president, George-Louis Bouchez. Their concerns centre mainly on the restricted social bubble over the holiday period, as well as the fact that some businesses, principally contact services like hairdressers and beauticians, remain closed.

Their demands were already ruled out a week ago by health minister Frank Vandenbroucke (sp.a), backed up by prime minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD).

Now the medical experts have joined in dismissing the thought of a relaxation.

Marc Van Ranst sees no reason to consider that the virus is in retreat, referring to the fact that the reproduction rate (R-number) shows that the virus is still active. An R-number of 1 means each infected person infects one other person.

Although the R-number for the whole of Belgium is still around 0.90, it is already above 0.95 in Antwerp, Limburg and Flemish Brabant, and in West Flanders and Luxembourg even just over 1,” he wrote on Twitter. “The recovery is in danger of being reversed.”

Microbiologist Emmanuel André, once one of the faces of the daily Covid news, also reacted.

By reacting like this yet again, the MR is not only putting the health of our people at risk, but also jeopardising our economy, which needs stability and prospects for the future. And finally, any loyalty to our governments who have to go through this crisis is placed at risk.”

Bouchez called the scientist to order:

“This is a request from a minister-president on behalf of his government, consisting of MR but also PS and Ecolo,” he posted. “So please do not minimise it as a biased question that is not within your area of expertise.”

Jeholet’s coalition partners Ecolo would not be dragged into the dispute. The party posted on its Twitter account: “Ecolo stands by the decisions and the timetable of the Consultative Committee. No cat-calling and no political games. The public and the medical staff deserve better.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times