Chief epidemiologist quits Covid-19 advisory team again

Ljubljana – Mario Fafangel, the head of the centre for communicable diseases at the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ), has resigned from the team advising the government on measures to contain coronavirus, saying decisions taken are often in disagreement with the epidemiologists’ opinion and protocols.

Fafangel, who had already resigned from the previous line-up of the advisory group under the leadership of Bojana Beović, joined the new team appointed by Health Minister Janez Poklukar and headed by Mateja Logar. Both Logar and Beović are experts on infectious diseases.

“When I received your invitation to rejoin the expert team I honestly believed things would be different this time around. They are different indeed, worse,” Fafangel said in his resignation letter to Poklukar, stating his decision is irrevocable.

“In the advisory group to the Health Ministry the voice of the epidemiological college that I represent continues to be in minority and represents but one vote,” he said.

He went on to say that he was distressed by the decisions that were often contrary to the epidemiologists’ opinions. “Therefore I cannot and will not take part any longer.”

“Continuously drawing attention to decisions that do not make sense and undermine established procedures of the epidemiological service and writing dissenting opinions for the record of the advisory team’s meetings makes no sense and is unproductive,” Fafangel added.

He was particularly critical of the way the 11-day circuit breaker lockdown at the beginning of the month was implemented, saying he found it horrible having to decide how or how many individuals could freely express their opinion about anything in a public space. “I do not want to play God,” he said.

Minister Poklukar regretted Fafangel’s resignation, thanking him for his contribution, while asking epidemiologist Irena Grmek Košnik to take his place in the group.

The Health Ministry said Grmek Košnik had accepted the invitation and would take over the role immediately.

Responding to the resignation, the advisory team said that its purpose was for leading experts to exchange opinions, and to make proposals on that basis, while final decisions were the competence and responsibility of the decision-makers.

“Every opinion in the group is appreciated, which is why we regret every decision by renown experts to no longer participate in looking for best solutions,” adds the statement sent to the STA by the head of the group Mateja Logar.

MEP Tanja Fajon, the president of the opposition Social Democrats (SD), said Fafangel enjoyed a lot of public trust and added that she would “much rather see the government resign instead of Fafangel”.

Fajon also said on Twitter that the resignation of the only epidemiologist from the expert group meant that something was very wrong and that the government exposed the reality of situation being out of control.

Prime Minister Janez Janša retweeted Fajon and added that this was the “latest proof that some do not differentiate between epidemiology and political science. They think that these are two different departments at the Faculty of Social Sciences.”