EU, WHO missed chances to prevent rapid Covid-19 spread, official testifies
Friday, 18 September 2020
International institutions missed opportunities to prevent the rapid spread of Covid-19, a Public Health official told the special coronavirus House committee.
“The institutions themselves reacted very quickly,” said Lieven De Raedt, head of international relations at the Federal Public Health Service (FPS Public Health). However, they could have done some things differently, in which case “the virus would have spread, but maybe that spread would have slowed down a bit.”
For example, no travel restrictions were imposed on either China or Italy, the first European country hit by the virus. While it is now normal to impose a quarantine on those returning from red zones, that was not the case in the early months.
“At the level of the European Union and the WHO, opportunities have been missed to deal more strictly with the situation from the beginning, perhaps even with the knowledge they had at the time,” De Raedt said, pointing out that no tough political measures were taken in the first few months.
The speed of the virus was underestimated from the beginning, according to De Raedt, and the fact that countries started closing borders and stocking up on face masks in what De Raedt called an “every man for himself” situation was partially the result of this underestimation.
As for Belgium’s own application of the recommendations, he remained cautious but said that the country was “awake,” based on the fact that the Risk Management Group (RMG) met to discuss the situation in January, a week before the international health alert was announced on 30 January, and based on feedback from the meetings that makes De Raedt conclude that the signals had reached those responsible.
“There was always sincere interest and willingness to take the advice to heart,” De Raedt said. “It was the compass that Belgium tried to follow as well as possible.”
The House committee had also asked Hans Kluge, regional director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to join the hearing, but the organisation announced an hour before its start that they wouldn’t be present. The organisation suggested that commission members deliver their questions to the organisation.