March 25, 2020
Scientific advice and politics
We will only know well after the Covid-19 crisis what sort of measures were successful and why. South Korea and Japan recovered without strict confinement, while European countries have imposed confinement measures of varying strictness, African countries just started with confinement measures but have no chance of strict enforcement, and Donald Trump is considering to lift social-distancing measures altogether.
How much is scientific advice worth in politics? There are still many unknowns about the virus, how it spreads and why it kills in certain hotspots more than in others. Politics is flying blind.
Will public opinion back the leaders? The virus is an invisible threat for many. Doctors in Bergamo send pictures through social media to remind people what it feels like to be in an a hospital there. There are queues for funerals. These stories inform the views of people in their solitary confinement back home.
The scientific committee Emmanuel Macron installed just two weeks ago is already being challenged by politicians and journalists as week two of the confinement starts. Last night the committee, led by Jean-François Delfraissy, recommended to extend the confinement until end-April as the death toll rose by 240 to 1100 yesterday. This means six more weeks in confinement. Macron also installed a second scientific committee under the leadership of Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, who discovered the HIV virus. This new committee is to advise the health minister on more operational questions such as testing and how to use innovative methods to track people in contact with an infected patient. The two committees are meant to be complementary to each other, but one can easily see how they could end up with different and opposing advice. The more testing methods are available, the more France could afford a scenario like that in South Korea, where emphasis was on testing rather than confinement.