PTB-PVDA wants a centralized fight against the coronavirus


The PTB-PVDA calls for the immediate appointment of a national commissioner to accelerate the fight against the coronavirus in our country. According to the left party, such a commissioner is needed to break the institutional and economic straitjacket that currently prevents the necessary measures from being taken to curb the epidemic in depth.


"Instead of nine health ministers stepping on each other's toes, we urgently need a national commissioner who is above the institutional mess and, above all, who puts the health of citizens first, not short-term economic interests," explains Sofie Merckx, general practitioner and Member of Parliament for the PTB-PVDA.

Not nine ministers, but a central command

“As WHO experts recommend, the fight against the coronavirus requires a uniform and centralized approach," says Merckx. “But in our country we now see the opposite, with no less than nine ministers of health (*). This puts us in a situation where everyone is involved, but no one is really responsible." This may now block the necessary preparation of the third phase of the health emergency plan.

“Thus, increasing the capacity of hospitals to accommodate at-risk contaminated patients is a crucial factor in the fight against the epidemic," warns Sofie Merckx. “Hospital funding is the responsibility of the federal government, while responsibility for hospital emergency planning is divided among the different levels of government. This will inevitably cause problems in the absence of a person at the national level with ultimate responsibility and decision-making authority. The competence for quarantine measures has also been regionalised, which means that the regulations in this area are different in Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels."

The PTB-PVDA believes that one solution to all this would be to appoint a national commissioner, who would be above all this institutional chaos. "The Interministerial Conference on Public Health must mandate this commissioner to take the necessary measures, on the advice of scientists, which would take precedence over regional decrees and ordinances," explains Sofie Merckx. This commissioner should be accountable to the federal parliament.

Public health must take precedence over short-term economic interests

In the PTB-PVDA's view, it is essential for the Commissioner to be explicitly mandated to protect public health and to consider this protection criterion as the top priority when defining what measures are necessary, regardless of possible short-term economic consequences.

"This is clearly not the case today. Thus, in our country, we have gone back on control measures, for example by no longer testing people who have been in close contact with patients confirmed to have coronavirus, even if they fall ill, and no longer isolating contacts of sick patients who do not develop symptoms. This is opposed to WHO guidelines, which call for strict control measures, including tracing and isolation of people who have been in contact with the sick. The reason our country is not following this recommendation is first of all because of a lack of personnel and equipment, which is already particularly problematic in itself, but this decision was also very clearly taken for economic reasons in the short term. Such decisions, however, reduce our chances of curbing the epidemic in depth. We therefore believe that they need to be reconsidered," concludes Sofie Merckx.


(*) The various reforms of the Belgian state have created a chaotic structure which divides competences in the field of health care among 9 ministers (1 federal, 3 regional, 5 community): Flemish, Walloon-Brussels, German, Flemish in Brussels and bi-communal in Brussels).