Hans Kluge (WHO): ‘Extremely important to reduce the number of contacts’ – Belgium

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Belgium should absolutely not allow mass events and should use maximum masks. That says Flemish Hans Kluge, European director at the World Health Organization (WHO) in an interview with De Zondag.

We have now had a first wave, or does that only seem to be the case?

HIS WISE: I often get that question: are we now at the beginning of a second wave? Actually that matters little. We will have to learn to live with a virus that will not go away so quickly and we must use the periods of rest to learn the necessary lessons. Do simulations, increase preparedness, stock up on protective equipment stocks.

There is still a lot we don’t know about the virus, but there is already enough know-how to keep society functioning without having to go to a new full lockdown. Shutting down the economy and education is really damaging to a society.

The measures have been tightened considerably in Belgium in the past week. Justly?

KLUGE: I do not like to speak out about individual countries, but well: I am a Belgian, I know the situation and I am in close contact with Minister De Block and Pedro Facon (Director-General for Healthcare at the FPS Public Health, nvdr.). People are gradually tired of the measures, but there are few options. What is definitely needed? No mass events and maximum use of mouth masks.

I am not going to speak out about the curfew in Antwerp, that is a political decision. It is immensely important to reduce the number of contacts. But there is no script with golden rules for this crisis. Each country has to look at its own epidemiological situation. It is therefore good that the voices of experts and virologists are now louder. Every country does good things and less good things. WHO has also made mistakes. Most importantly, we are now looking forward. The bill for the mistakes made will come later.

The Belgian measures are among the strictest in Europe. And yet we have relatively many infections and many deaths. How did that happen?

KLUGE: You really shouldn’t compare countries. The capacity to test plays a major role in every country. There are no good and bad students. With the Spanish flu a hundred years ago, the countries that did well also suffered heavily in a second wave. Now it is. Look at Israel. They were the best student in the class during the first wave and now the situation there is also very bad.

No country should shout from the rooftops that it has the best approach. What is important is that we strengthen primary care. In the first wave, the focus shifted to hospitals. Rightly so: lives had to be saved. But it turned out that those hospitals in some countries were real incubators for contamination.

Now, in the event of a second wave in the fall when the flu swirls around, we must really try to keep the people out of the hospitals. Testing and contact tracing will become very important and the municipal level will play a crucial role in this.

Read the full interview with Hans Kluge in De Zondag.

In the meantime, we have had a first wave, or does it seem that way? HANS KLUGE: I often get that question: are we now at the beginning of a second wave? Actually that matters little. We will have to learn to live with a virus that will not go away so quickly and we must use the periods of rest to learn the necessary lessons. Doing simulations, increasing preparedness, stockpiling stocks of protective equipment. There is still a lot we don’t know about the virus, but there is already enough know-how to keep society functioning without having to go to a new full lockdown. Shutting down the economy and education is really damaging to a society. The measures have been tightened considerably in Belgium in the past week. KLUGE: I do not like to speak out about individual countries, but well: I am a Belgian, I know the situation and I am in close contact with Minister De Block and Pedro Facon (Director General of Health Care at the FPS Public Health, ed. .). People are gradually tired of the measures, but there are few options. What is definitely needed? No mass events and maximum use of mouth masks. I am not going to speak out about the curfew in Antwerp, that is a political decision. It is immensely important to reduce the number of contacts. But there is no script with golden rules for this crisis. Each country has to look at its own epidemiological situation. It is therefore good that the voices of experts and virologists are now louder. Every country does good things and less good things. WHO has also made mistakes. Most importantly, we are now looking forward. The bill for the mistakes made will come later. The Belgian measures are among the strictest in Europe. And yet we have relatively many infections and many deaths. How did that happen? KLUGE: You really shouldn’t compare countries. The capacity to test plays a major role in every country. There are no good and bad students. With the Spanish flu a hundred years ago, the countries that did well also suffered heavily in a second wave. Now it is. Look at Israel. They were the best student in the class during the first wave and now the situation there is also very bad. No country should shout from the rooftops that it has the best approach. What is important is that we strengthen primary care. In the first wave, the focus shifted to hospitals. Rightly so: lives had to be saved. But it turned out that those hospitals in some countries were real incubators for contamination. Now, in the event of a second wave in the fall when the flu swirls around, we must really try to keep the people out of the hospitals. Testing and contact tracing will become very important and the municipal level will play a crucial role in this.

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