“I actually had no idea what I was getting into. I happened to be president of the Dutch Intensive Care Association when the pandemic broke. This is a rotating presidency, ”explains Diederik Gommers. “I was mainly busy professionalizing our field further, not knowing that this virus would have such a huge impact on the ICU.”
“You are invited to UNWTO on the basis of expertise,” says Koopmans. “I said ‘yes’ to that right away. I knew the public role was part of it.” But the fact that the public part is so extensive also surprised Koopmans.
In addition to her work for UNWTO, the World Health Organization virologist on assignment investigated the origin of the virus in China. There she noticed the political tensions surrounding her work as a scientist. “This crisis forces you to sail as close to the wind as possible: where does my know-how end and where does it become a different game? It’s very exciting and fascinating to experience, ”explains Koopmans.
UNWTO member Diederik Gommers found it “actually quite exciting” to join the conversation in the Catshuis for the first time. “You suddenly really see where it’s all happening. It was very nice discussions that took place there. You really noticed that politicians wanted to absorb the knowledge that I had. we threatened to hit the maximum number of IC beds and talked about the black book. ”Those were pivotal moments, according to Gommers.
The influence of scientists in the public debate caused a stir. “You can see that very well in the discussion about China right now,” says Koopmans. “I think you should be able to talk about whether any DIY has been done in a lab, but you have to have this conversation with respect.”
According to Koopmans, a new global report has been released by the Academy of Scientists on researchers at risk. “The Netherlands is now also mentioned there. We really have to do something about it,” says Koopmans. “Freedom of speech and a lively debate are very important, but we really need to limit the threats.”
“Sometimes you really need to figure out how you can make something scientifically negotiable, even if it’s politically sensitive,” says Koopmans. “There is a risk that you will stop saying things because they are too sensitive.” Diederik Gommers also found balancing difficult at times. “We fell into it unprepared, but you also have to take a critical look at your own role,” he says. “Sometimes I went over the edge.”