Erika Vlieghe, the infectious diseases expert from the Antwerp university hospital, has published an open letter in De Morgen in which she goes back on statements she made in an interview at the weekend which caused some lively response.
“Can we please stop the daily flow of negative reports on just about all aspects of the epidemic and crisis management?”
The comment led immediately to reactions, mainly from politicians, and mainly reflecting the divide that exists between the experts, who see the Covid-19 epidemic as a scientific struggle requiring a clear strategy based on tried and tested tools; and politicians, who see a public becoming increasingly unhappy with all of the measures being taken – whether too strict or not strict enough – as well as an economy in the tank.
Vlieghe is one of the experts, the head of infectious diseases at Antwerp university and head of GEMS, the committee of experts set up to advise the government on their strategy. And her complaint about complaining took in not only arguments about herself and her scientific colleagues, but also attacks on those on the political side.
“First of all, this epidemic, which has now been going on for more than a year, is extremely tough for all of us,” she writes.
“We haven’t seen anything like this in a hundred years. People have lost loved ones, and sometimes also their jobs and contact with each other due to an elusive virus. For some of us, this is extra tough, for various reasons. If I have unwittingly hurt people by my statement, then I want to apologize to them here and now. My words were not about you.”
She goes on to lay out a list of what she has referred to as ‘complaining,’ on each and every detail of the strategy as well as those responsible for formulating it.
“To me, ‘complaining’ refers to the daily, unrelenting stream of negative messages and opinions, about just about every aspect of the epidemic and crisis management that has been engulfing us for weeks or months now,” she writes.
“About the vaccines that arrive too early or too late, the vaccination centres that are too big or too small, the rules that are ‘nonsensical’, the testing capacity that is too large or too small, the contact tracing that is lagging behind, the numbers that are unclear, the masks that might be poisonous or just plain boring, the travelling that we’re no longer allowed to do, the festivals that no one knows when they can go back to, and the future that no one can apparently predict.”
Of course, things could have been done better, she admits with the benefit of hindsight, and no-one knows that better than those on the front line, whatever their profession.
“Of course, and many people in the field are constantly working on it to make everything run better, faster and more efficiently,” she writes.
“This is a bumpy and often frustrating road, to begin with for all who work in it. They are doing it for you and all of us, selflessly and out of goodwill, and they want nothing more than to move forward. And rather than losing all their energy to daily criticism and frustration, they want to remain committed to continuous improvement.”
“The old life will return. I cannot tell you exactly how and when. We will have to find that out in the coming weeks and months. But I can tell you that we, with a great many people, in all walks of life, are working hard and steadily to get back to that point. And in order not to lose too much energy along the way, I propose to all of you complain less ;-). Will you go along?”