David Brunt 25/3/2020
Miquel Porta, epidemiologist and public health expert, during a conference. (Friends of Glass)
The Catalan ‘procés’ has taken advantage of the pandemic crisis and is using all its weapons to demonstrate that the Government of Spain is negligent, even inept, and that Catalonia would do much better if it could manage the response to itself. coronavirus. The most powerful weapon to date is the role of Catalan scientists. A group of 70 experts in different fields published a manifesto last Saturday in which they demand that the government completely confine the population and restrict transportation.
The document, which has not gone through any independent scientific validation filter, was widely disseminated by the media in Catalonia and since then has been used by the Government as a measure of pressure against the Government and to underpin the discourse that the Cabinet of Quim Torra is prepared to stop the pandemic.
This foray into the political activism of the 70 scientists has been widely applauded in independence circles but has enraged the scientific community, both in Catalonia and in the rest of Spain, which works tirelessly to tackle the health emergency. Miquel Porta, researcher at the Hospital del Mar Institute for Medical Research in Barcelona (IMIM) and associate professor of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina, has stepped forward to denounce the “indecent and very harmful use” that the independence movement is making the situation, using the collaboration of specialists who agitate public opinion “to facilitate their personal and political agendas.” Another part of the signatories, “naive and in good faith” but without any knowledge of public health policies, “play the game of certain political interests.” Some signatories come from scientists from other parts of Spain.
That manifesto is very negative and is doing a lot of damage to professionals on the front lines of this emergency.
“I always try to live on the margins of political noise,” explains Porta. “I was disconnected from this war of discourse in Catalonia until this manifesto appeared and it seemed necessary to intervene. That manifesto is very negative and is doing a lot of damage to the professionals who are on the front lines of this emergency. Today, people who work for the Barcelona Public Health Agency and the Canary Islands emergency committee have told me. For those of us who know something about epidemiology and public health, this is inconceivable, a lack of respect and incredible professionalism. ”
The problem, according to this renowned epidemiologist and public health expert who has lectured at European and American institutions, is not disagreeing on how the Spanish Government and its associated technicians approach the pandemic. Criticism is healthy, says Porta, but there are some channels of scientific validation that the signatories of this manifesto “have skipped showing great pride”, thus generating suspicions within the population about the work of the professionals in charge of this crisis. Technical profiles that Catalonia requires political measures based on its own study that has not passed the usual filters of the international scientific community, and that the Government brandishes as irrefutable proof that Madrid is doing everything wrong.
“What a scientist does when he has a report or ‘paper’ is to send it to a journal for ‘peer review’ and then publish it, or send it to public institutions through transparent channels, which exist and what a scientist cannot do is create a manifesto, which is not even a scientific paper to begin with, and release it to the political-media scene, bypassing the rules and despising the work of hundreds of specialists. This is doing pandemic activism in favor of certain causes. “
Infectologists and activists
The infectiologists Oriol Mitjà and Bonaventura Clotet are the visible heads of this manifesto and have become the leading experts of the Govern in this crisis. Both signed a document of accession to Junts per Catalunya last May, prior to the municipal and European elections, along with another sixty scientists. On this occasion, Mitjà and Clotet demand the “total confinement” of the population to contain the pandemic based on the result of “mathematical simulations”. If action is not taken immediately, say the 70 experts, the health system will “collapse” around March 25, that is, this very Wednesday.
Mitjà has said on more than one occasion that “a replacement is necessary” at the head of the Coronavirus Technical Management Committee of the Ministry of Health. There is no criticism of the role of the Generalitat in managing the greatly reduced Catalan health in recent years. Mitjà, like Clotet, works at the Germans Trias i Pujol Institute in Badalona, dependent on the Generalitat.
The publication of the manifesto coincides in time with the 180-degree turn of the Government, which has gone from ignoring the epidemic for weeks, promoting the act of support for Carles Puigdemont in Perpignan on February 29 and keeping all his public agenda until the last moment before the state of alarm, to criticize the government for being slow and incapable.
“Many of these signatories have no idea of the consequences or social implications of what this manifesto proposes. They do not know how to explain, they cannot expose the practical effects of totally confining the population or the impact on public health because managing a pandemic is not their professional field. It is a manifesto of adherence that transmits a false message to society, and that is that everything depends on the work of godly researchers, politicians and even journalists. Those who really struggle are epidemiologists and public health technicians, based on concrete scientific models, along with medical and nursing professionals, ”says Porta.
“Imagine that a surgeon is operating on your thyroid,” he says by way of example. “It must go with great precision, but then someone comes and hits him on the elbow. Well, this is much more serious because we are talking about the lives of thousands of people, the economic consequences and the democratic quality of a society. The main promoters of this know perfectly well that this is not how things are done. A scientific study can be sent to journals explaining the proposed containment measures and have them reviewed quickly. The group from Imperial College and ‘The Lancet’ have done it without any problem. Electoral manipulation has limits, and these people have crossed them ”.
Electoralist manipulation has limits, and these people have crossed them
Francisco Bolúmar, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Alcalá, has expressed himself in similar terms in the last hours. “I wanted to know exactly what they are asking for when they speak of total confinement. The absolute paralysis of the country? Because that is crazy. There is no evidence, no data, that tells us that if we increase isolation, we decrease contagion. Many of the measures that Italy has taken in the new decree were already being applied in Spain, ”Bolúmar recently told ‘El País’.
Proof of the opportunity of this manifesto in the political speech of the Govern is that it was the main argument used by Quim Torra in his recent meeting of regional presidents. A manifesto that, Porta insists on behalf of other indignant professionals, “is not a revised scientific work”. “Meanwhile, there are hundreds of administration technicians and epidemiologists really struggling to overcome this crisis. Unfortunately in Spain we have a weak scientific fabric, which makes it easier for society to fall into political manipulations ”, he concludes.