Relax? Not yet

Written on 18 April 2020, 07:45pm

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My view on the recent study arguing that the lock-down measures implemented in Belgium should be relaxed to match the ones in the Netherlands, which lead to similar infection numbers. For completion, the 3 main differences between the two countries are:

  • no legal enforcement of the lock-down in the NL
  • all shops remain open in the NL
  • telework is encouraged, but not mandatory in the NL

Note: For the sake of readability, I will add the relevant links at the end of the post.

What I liked in the study

  • the dependency between the policy, human behavior and outcome
  • the use of Google mobility data

The two premises

  • I pretty much agree with the first one – about the complexity of the epidemic models and the fact that the Belgian government is not very transparent in sharing all the data. But we should not underestimate the importance of the scientists working together with the decision-makers.
  • However, I do not agree with the second premise: that the models need precise data in order to work. Scientists routinely work with incomplete or imperfect data. Confidence intervals, margins of error, type I and II errors are all part of the game. This is not a perfect world.

Something is rotten in the state of Belgium

Written on 1 April 2016, 03:17pm

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A post full of links and frustrations, following the recent attacks in Brussels.

A very good summary of the Belgium’s worst terror misses, mistakes and misunderstandings is in this post: Then there is the famous rant in the wake of the Paris attacks about how Belgium is a failed state: They paint a very accurate picture of the Belgian state, but they are coming from the same source, so below there are more links with factual data coming from other sources.

Belgian Authorities Overwhelmed By Terror Investigations:

Belgium feared tragedy was coming but couldn’t stop it (Kristof Clerix):
From the same author, a post written post-Paris attacks: Why are terrorists drawn to Belgium?

Wrong man portrait broadcast:

How Fayçal Cheffou is free to go and a suspected terrorist
Arrested and freed again because he got into a friend flat by the window: Fayçal Cheffou à nouveau arrêté

La sécurité de l’aéroport de Zaventem inquiète
“Police working at Brussels Airport have published an open letter censuring the security system at Belgium’s national airport. They suggest the 22 March terrorist attack at Zaventem could have been avoided, and also demand more and better guarantees before accepting to restart working at Brussels Airport.”

Le système de communication Astrid de la police a été saturé pendant les attentats. Selon un agent, les services ont dû communiquer via l’application Whatsapp, écrivent le Nieuwsblad et la Gazet van Antwerpen samedi.

8 Belges sur 10 redoutent de nouvelles attaques et accusent l’Etat, selon un sondage

March 2014: “Le Centre de Crise développe de nouveaux canaux pour alerter la population en cas de catastrophe. Toutefois, les citoyens ne seront pas automatiquement prévenus. L’inscription via le site web est impérative pour recevoir, le cas échéant, un SMS d’avertissement. Il est également possible d’opter pour l’e-mail, le message vocal sur un numéro fixe ou mobile et… le fax.”
March 2016: Phone networks down. People not receiving any alerts. “Pourquoi BE-Alert n’a-t-il pas fonctionné ? “J’avais fait inscrire toute ma famille, dont mes parents âgés et ma sœur qui souffre d’un handicap. Mardi dernier, jour des attentats à Bruxelles, personne n’a reçu d’alerte. Si, avant de prendre le métro, j’avais reçu un SMS me tenant au courant de la menace terroriste, jamais je n’aurais pris le risque d’entrer dans la station de Maelbeek. Je serais restée à l’abri et n’aurais pas dû compter sur le hasard pour pouvoir être en vie et témoigner”, s’indigne-t-elle.”

Ok. Where do we go from here? 3 starting points in my opinion (one preventive, two reactive):
1. Strengthen the national security services

The ratio between security services and potential terrorists is therefore roughly of 1:1 — at best. Needless to say, there are not nearly enough people to properly monitor every dangerous individual. Authorities are forced to prioritize and make judgement calls. The likelihood of mistakes multiplies. […] The problem is widely acknowledged, but budgetary restrictions, which were in effect until 2015 due to difficult economic conditions, exacerbated the situation. In this context, and in order to anticipate future threats, the government urgently needs to strengthen its national security services. It’s not a magical solution, but it’s a first step — especially if followed by other measures across the entire counter-terrorism spectrum, notably in terms of prevention.

2. Introduce proper terrorist penalties: life sentence in isolation for terrorist activities, 24/24 monitor for flagged individuals, 24/24 search warrants for suspicion of terrorist activities, etc

3. Up to date CCTV system with high image quality in public places (not like the joke of image in the airport that seems to be taken with a potato)