The sound of silence

d'Lëtzebuerger Land du 15.01.2021

Whereas Covid-19 is the first pandemic to have been caused by a coronavirus, most previous pandemics, in particular the so-called “Spanish Flu” of 1918-1920, were due to an influenza virus. Although a hundred years later some European countries foresaw the possibility of an outbreak, preparations were largely based on their experience with influenza, and earlier mistakes in terms of the handling of the current crisis resulted from this misconception. On the other hand, a major reason why countries such as Taiwan and South Korea fared much better is because they had already experienced Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which is caused by the Sars-Cov coronavirus.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. That evening, 52 000 people watched the Champions League game between Liverpool FC and Atlético Madrid at Anfield, the Liverpool stadium; 3 000 supporters had travelled from Spain, where football could only be played behind closed doors. Between March 10 and 13, 250 000 people attended the Cheltenham Festival, a major annual horse racing event in the UK.

That was back then – and it does sound unbelievable in retrospect, since now, after a relative easing over the summer, Covid-19 has come back with a vengeance. Without a doubt, the complacency of some governments (“Alles is relativ”) has contributed to the death toll. Besides, the political leadership required to deal with the current crisis has been weakened by the progressive erosion of trust in expert knowledge.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that science and politics are uneasy bedfellows. Remember Antoine Lavoisier, the father of chemistry, who was guillotined in 1794. The Head of the Revolutionary Tribunal was more than dismissive when he said: “La République n’a pas besoin de savants.” Unlike politics, science requires total transparency. It replaces ignorance and false certainties with new knowledge, whereas politics is, in fact, often based on a number of false certainties. What is more, there can be no such thing as “following the science” when faced with the unknown. Establishing new knowledge takes time; false leads are frequently pursued until the truth eventually emerges.

One cannot deny that without the latest advances in science we would be almost completely helpless in the face of the current crisis. Besides, over the years, science has repeatedly warned against the possibility of pandemics. Undeniably, the ongoing disruption of natural habitats is increasing the likelihood of zoonotic diseases, which are based on animal-to-human transmission.

Experience has taught us that uncomfortable truths must sometimes be dragged out of politicians and the scientists who advise them. In the UK, many mistakes made in dealing with the current health crisis are only known because of “Freedom of Information requests”. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 gives British taxpayers access to information of public interest held by the authorities. As a result, we know that over 10 000 people have turned Sars-Cov-2-positive on National Health Service wards, which has led cynics to suggest that in order to save lives hospitals should be closed, while pubs ought to remain open. No doubt a future public inquiry into the handling of Covid-19 will bring other crucial facts to light.

Are we not entitled to the same level of transparency in Luxembourg? On Wednesday, December 9, 2020, nine Sars-Cov-2 positive people sadly died. One of them was our mother, Dr Marie-Antoinette Goedert-Bové, who worked as a general practitioner for close to forty years and was hospitalized for a chronic heart condition. She was then infected with Sars-Cov-2 in hospital. Anecdotal evidence leads us to believe that hers was not an isolated case.

Are Luxembourg taxpayers not also entitled to know how many people have become Sars-Cov-2-positive in which hospitals and care homes, and when this happened? Does the “Loi du 14 septembre 2018 relative à une administration transparente et ouverte” not have a key role to play in this context? I do urge the Government and the Direction de la Santé to make the information available to the general public. The current code of silence is unworthy of a model European democracy of the 21st century. Nation branding must also be about openness and honesty, so “Let’s make it happen”!

Michel Goedert
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