Former prime minister Wilmès heard by special coronavirus committee
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Former prime minister Wilmès heard by special coronavirus committee

Credit: Belga

Former Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès was the first of ministers in office during the first coronavirus wave to be heard by the special committee on Belgium’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“No one, to my knowledge, could predict, on the basis of solid and reliable elements, not that something was being prepared but the unprecedented and brutal scale of the events that followed, Wilmès said, “nor could anyone, to my knowledge, have predicted that we knew so little about the virus that would strike and, above all, about effective health and public order responses to it.”

In addition, no one could have predicted the virus’ spread by asymptomatic people either, she continued, stressing that it complicated the response “in terms of measures, monitoring and isolation capacity.”

She underlined that saying that “we should have known” would be rewriting history.

Wilmès explained that figures coming out of China were “rather reassuring” but that they were “gradually contradicted” by information coming out of Italy.

In addition, “on 3 March, the information given to the Health Commission by the experts on the basis of Chinese data was reassuring, and referred to a worst-case scenario of 13,000 positive diagnoses in 9 weeks, of which 2,000 to 3,000 people would have to be hospitalised, including 700 people in intensive care,” she said.

“However, 6 days after the first Belgian death, Belgium had to undertake a general containment of its population. One of the most radical measures in its history.”

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“We must therefore try to take a fair, objective and critical look at the analysis; that is to say, we must take into consideration, for each period under discussion, the scientific knowledge available at the time, the general state of understanding and support of public opinion, the influence of the dominant discourse, the comparison with the situation outside our borders, but also the various material and human resources available to scientists, institutions and authorities at the time,” she concluded.

Just over a year on from the start of Belgium’s first lockdown, a total of 822,801 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the country, and 22,624 have lost their lives to Covid-19.

As Belgium’s coronavirus figures are worsening, the Consultative Committee will be meeting on Friday, a week earlier than planned, to discuss possible changes to the rules.

Jason Spinks
The Brussels Times