In the shadow of the covid-19 pandemic
In Europe, we are in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, with clear indications that the situation will continue to worsen. It is now out of the question that will not spread throughout the world, the only question is how much harm it will cause.
Two weeks ago, when the ECNP Executive Committee decided to cancel the ECNP Workshop (Nice, 5-8 March 2020) and the ECNP New Frontiers in Digital Health Meeting (Nice, 8 -10 March 2020), the situation was not at all that clear. Later, the ECNP School of Child and Adolescent Neuropsychopharmacology (Venice, 22-27 March 2020) was also called off. Looking back, it would have been a terrible mistake to let the meetings go on. Many of us are health care professionals with frequent contact with patients, including some who are immunologically compromised. More than ever, our workforce is needed in a situation like this. The personal interactions that make the Workshop and Schools so valuable for early career scientists naturally imply standing close at the posters, talking with colleagues, and circulating with food and drinks. Ethical issues were also raised – with North Italy being severely afflicted, could one ask people with a home address in any of the affected Italian regions to stay away? How about people who had been visiting endemic areas? Or people who had a cold or cough?
From a mental health care perspective, a highly unwanted but unavoidable side effect of the turmoil created by the public, media, health care professionals, authorities and governments is a likely increase in the prevalence among the general population of anxiety, depression, stress, sleeplessness, hypochondriasis, and OCD.
As the number of infected individuals has gone up exponentially, the strategy has changed from tracking and isolating cases and imposing quarantine on those who have been in close contact with infected individuals, to only testing severely affected individuals. As we speak, more and more European countries are closing kindergartens, schools, and universities, making people work from home, imposing travel bans or travel warnings, or even closing borders. Whereas it makes good sense to keep people away from larger gatherings, closing of borders is a purely political statement. Covid-19 does not respect borders or societal status, the virus is now everywhere. But it is worrying that European countries choose such different strategies, apparently without any co-ordinated effort to make common strategic decisions based on scientific evidence for what works and at what cost.
We are on this Globe together, and together we must resolve the crisis the best we can, just as we will resolve the challenges of climate change together – and not by staring blindly at our own national climate account as a narrow-minded accountant, inventing tricks to make our local CO2-accounts look more glamorous, without any higher visions.
Will there be anything useful to take back from the current events? I think so. In the aftermath of the covid-19 crisis, whenever that comes, we have learned some expensive lessons that hopefully can help us navigate next time a pandemic situation arises.
Some large-scale questions lie ahead, which will also define the future of ECNP. Questions to be addressed include sustainability, good governance, and environmental concerns vis-à-vis travelling. We will need to discuss the format of our educational activities and congress with options for non-physical scientific interactions, how we communicate with participants, which investments ECNP needs to make to profit more from the newest technology, and how to make more use of social media. It is still not a likely scenario that physical meetings will be replaced altogether by technological interactions, but we need a contingency plan. Do you have any suggestions, you would like to share? Please come forward with your ideas. We are all ears.
And take care of yourselves out there.
Gitte Moos Knudsen