Pandemic experts more guarded about what they say after threats to Belgian virologist
Members of the Outbreak Management Team (OMT) are making fewer public appearances in the wake of threats against top Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst from right-wing extremists. The members of the government advisory body are now generally also more cautious about statements they make, Nu.nl reported.
Van Rast went into hiding 10 days ago after it was revealed that military soldier Jürgen Conings made violent threats against the virologist before he himself disappeared. The 46-year old Conings, who is armed with military-grade weapons which he stole from a barracks armory and is still on the run.
Many OMT members were concerned about Van Ranst's fate, although not all of them know him personally. "This kind of thing makes me cancel media appearances, yes," said Diederik Gommers, chair of the Dutch Association for Intensive Care (NVIC).
"What I realize is that you have to pay close attention to your words and stay true to yourself. That you make statements that relate to your field and that you absolutely do not want to offend people. I pay more attention to that, I notice", said Gommers.
Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans said she did not change her stances and opinions, but became more careful about where she broadcasts them. Koopmans, who gets requests for media appearances on a daily basis, now commonly rejects them. "I regularly say no to them, because I think: then you will get such a burden over you afterward," she admitted.
"It is something that provokes things in people, in a positive and negative sense. I only do it if I think it has added value and if I think it suits me, and I don't try to have an opinion on everything," said microbiologist Jan Kluytmans, who is known as a more reserved member of OMT.
Kluytmans also pointed to the example of former minister and D66 party elder Els Borst, who was stabbed to death in 2014. Bart van U. confessed to the murder, saying he received divine instructions to kill those responsible for making euthanasia legal in the Netherlands.