Mr Aguzzi, last week you called for a nationwide lockdown and accused the Federal Council of not taking any necessary measures. As a result, a sit storm was unloaded in the comment column. “I’m on my way to becoming the most hated scientist in Switzerland,” you wrote on Twitter. What do you attribute the outrage to?
I think we’re all under stress. It’s a very emotional issue, people are worried about their economic future. But in the current situation you can only do everything wrong as an expert anyway. Whatever you say, you get hostile.
What triggered the reactions in you?
Criticism is part of the dynamic of social media. But it’s bad when you’re in the middle of the storm. People called and insulted me in the middle of the night, I even had to hire a lawyer. But I also received many nice letters and expressions of solidarity. Johann Schneider-Ammann sent me two SMS and congratulated me.
They strike alarmist tones and claim that only with a complete shutdown of public life can the crisis be overcome within a reasonable period of time and with few deaths. “Die Weltwoche” is called “Professor Panik” in today’s issue. Are you sowing panic for no reason?
I think you have to shake people up. I don’t know if I’m alarmist, I don’t look into the crystal ball. I can see the situation in Italy: the undertakers can no longer keep up with their work. It breaks my heart. And I see how similar the Swiss epidemic curve looks. I sincerely hope that it’s all a nightmare. When a hundred or a thousand times fewer people die, I’m still so happy. Then you can call me a panic maker, I can live with that.
The Zurich Health Directorate also made it clear in “Weltwoche”: “We warn against panicking the population.” Are you impressed by this administrative attack?
I don’t want to comment on that.
The Federal Council has meanwhile decided on a ban on meetings of five or more people. Is that enough?
The Federal Council reacted quickly and sent a very clear signal. What we have now is a mini lockdown. However, I am afraid that home office and the rules of conduct will not be followed consistently. The open-plan offices scare me. I don’t know how many people are still working. A rigorous lockdown would not only save additional lives, but also to some extent better protect the economy. Then we would get the disease under control very quickly. Ticino has already submitted.
What else could the Federal Council do?
All hotels are currently empty. It could be used to isolate patients who are only mildly ill. This would relieve the hospitals and prevent infections. This is already being done in Israel. Switzerland could also offer the option of voluntarily isolating yourself in a hotel room.
What is the most important thing at the moment?
I believe that the top priority must be to inform the public openly and honestly.
The Daily scoreboard recently reported that Adriano Aguzzi plans to introduce a new corona blood test at Zurich University Hospital. However, these tests are only carried out on blood samples released for research that can no longer be assigned to a patient. So you can’t get a blood test for Corona. Nevertheless, the university hospital is currently overwhelmed with inquiries in this regard. Aguzzi asks to keep the phone lines free.
Adriano Aguzzi is director of the Institute for Neuropathology at the University Hospital Zurich.
Experts are currently speculating when the worst is over. With today’s strategy of the Federal Council: When do you expect the crisis to end?
I hope that summer will be over. Many respiratory viruses subside when it gets warm. That could also happen with the new corona virus. And I believe that medication is already on the market in the summer. All university research is currently focused on the corona virus. Fast results will come.
Is there a second wave of contagion?
The danger is there. Until then, we are better prepared. We will have medication available and therefore the hospitals will not be so congested. It won’t be back as soon as it used to be. The corona crisis is a huge shock to the world and will change a lot.
What are the risks of the Federal Council strategy?
I don’t presume to judge that.