Expert calls for discussion of ethical issues "before next pandemic"

The introduction of measures to contain the corona pandemic was not a question of “right or wrong”. It’s about finding “the balance between the freedom of the individual and the protection of the population,” said the director of the EU disease control agency ECDC, Andrea Ammon, on Wednesday afternoon at the European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG). Now, however, the time should be used to discuss ethical questions of such restrictions, a WHO expert demanded.

Lockdowns are working less and less

“We thought such measures would be a thing of the past,” Ammon explained about the lockdowns in March 2020 in European countries. At that time there would have been “nothing else” to contain the pandemic and the population would have accepted the restrictions well. As further lockdowns followed, “it worked less and less,” said the German doctor.

“We did this for people’s safety, to protect them from Covid,” Ammon said. In the course of the pandemic, however, parts of the population did not simply want to “accept orders, but to be involved”. The ECDC director spoke of an ethical dimension “that we did not expect” and that communication with the population is required.

Preparation “for next pandemic”

Politicians sometimes had to make extremely difficult decisions, said Andreas Reis, co-head of the Department of Health Ethics and Governance at the World Health Organization. “Before the next pandemic” preparations are needed on ethical issues. Most countries have national ethics committees and many have worked around the clock for the past two and a half years, but in some states too little has been done or the ethics committees and other experts have not been sufficiently involved.

Swedish point of view

Sweden has been “described as lax” with its less far-reaching corona measures than in other countries, reported the Director General of the Swedish Public Health Agency, Karin Tegmark Wisell. However, there were also restrictions on contacts, distance rules and the number of participants at public events in her country. However, the measures should be based on previous public health work and prepared plans for pandemics in Sweden and be scientifically sound.

Restrictions affecting children were made with particular care, Wisell said. In addition, it was legally stipulated that before measures were introduced, representatives of the population groups concerned had to be spoken to. Sweden had a high mortality rate at the beginning of the pandemic, but overall relatively low excess mortality in 2020 and 2021 compared to other countries, the microbiologist emphasized.

Analyzes have also shown that the Swedish population would have restricted their movements in different phases of the pandemic in a similar way to people in other northern European countries.

The EHFG 2022 comes to an end on Thursday, gathering around 1,400 participants from governments, academia, civil society and industry online and on site in Bad Hofgastein. On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the event, discussions on the implementation of a “European Health Union” as well as the ongoing crisis from the pandemic, climate change and war and their health effects were the focus of the four days of the congress.

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