Threatened with death by “extreme right circles”, the bellge virologist Marc Van Ranst benefits from police protection.
A virologist under police protection after death threats: this chilling story takes place in Belgium, where Marc Van Ranst, whose voice disturbs, became the target of “anti-masks” in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.
In mid-August, this movement targeted him in a demonstration, accusing him of being one of the main inspirers of what they consider to be a “masquerade”, the set of binding anti-virus rules. The participants, several hundred that Sunday in Brussels, were invited to submit a letter demanding his resignation from the college of experts which advises the government on the health crisis. The mobilization has not really taken off.
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The 55-year-old scientist also assures that these threats, received by email or on social networks from “extreme right circles”, have “nothing to do with the epidemic” and its positions uncompromising on wearing a mask or limiting contact. “It is linked to my remarks against racism and xenophobia. I cannot not react on it, and the right-wing parties hate me”, affirms this Antwerp citizen with a stocky physique, who assumes his anchorage on the left.
Nevertheless, a month later adherence to the constraints seems to be weakening, and Marc Van Ranst believes that “populist views” have more echo in public opinion. “All those who say” I want to get rid of the mask and the five bubble “(the ceiling of close contacts authorized for each household, note) attracts a lot of attention, and I can understand, we are all bored of the virus” , he emphasizes. “The problem is that the virus is not tired of us, it continues to infect us as it liked to do in March”, continues the virologist.
A strong word
In Belgium, the coronavirus has already killed nearly 10,000 – 9,930 recorded on Wednesday -, one of the highest death rates in the world, for a population of around 11.5 million inhabitants. Today the epidemic is resuming (the authorities identify around 800 new infections per day) which the expert is openly worried about.
On Tuesday, Van Ranst criticized the government for its lack of responsiveness to the relaxation of behavior. With decision-makers “in slow motion” Belgium is heading for “catastrophe”, he thundered on Twitter, his favorite mode of communication.
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“Now the population wants a new balance between the number of deaths and the functioning of the economy, it is completely understandable. But what level of deaths can be considered acceptable?”, He argues. “What I am convinced”, he continues, “is that society will never accept that hospitals are overwhelmed and that military trucks must evacuate the corpses out of the city as in Bergamo”, epicenter of the health crisis in Italy in March.
“It’s sad but that’s how it is”
At the head of a research laboratory in the very famous Dutch-speaking university of Louvain (KU Leuven) and teacher in this faculty, Marc Van Ranst was called in March to sit among the experts in charge of thinking about the strategy for exiting confinement .
Always dressed in a V-shaped sweater, he was a fervent supporter of caution there and particularly deplored the “bubble” of fifteen contacts authorized at the end of June by the government, which then returned to the measure. The other experts “are a little afraid” of Marc Van Ranst, launched at the end of August a former rector of the KU Leuven, Rik Torfs, a remark which the person concerned considered “totally out of place”.
Going to clash on the internet with the Vlaams Belang, Flemish anti-immigration independence party, he says that the label “communist” was attached to him when he signed in 2016 the preface of a pamphlet by Peter Mertens, leader of the Party workers in Belgium (PTB, radical left).
For several months a police patrol has been monitoring his home, in the suburbs of Antwerp, and he is also escorted as soon as he takes part in a public event. “It’s sad but that’s how it is,” said the father of an 11-year-old boy with fatalism.