Aarhus University strongly represented on the national COVID-19 response review committee

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Three of the five professors who have been appointed to review Denmark’s response to COVID-19 are from Aarhus University.

2020.09.04 | Lotte Bilberg

The Danish Parliament has appointed Emeritus Professor Jørgen Grønnegård Christensen from the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University to head a committee tasked with reviewing the government’s and the authorities’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Denmark. Photo: Ove Smedegaard and private.

FACTS

The purpose of the committee’s analysis is to discover what lessons are to be learned from the government’s and the authorities’ handling of the COVID-19 crisis – lessons that can be applied if a similar situation arises in future. To this end, the committee has been tasked with finding the answers to questions like:

  • What was the basis for the emergency legislation that was passed in connection with the shutdown?Here the committee will evaluate the nature of the health-related and economic evidence on which the emergency legislation was based. And whether the evaluations of government officials and authorities could be freely communicated to Parliament and the public. 

  • What were the Danish Parliament's options for oversight of the government's actions during the shutdown?
  • What was the emergency response? What was the situation in terms of the authorities' testing capacity? And hospital treatment capacity? In relation to the above, the committee has been tasked with assessing the government's strategy, including the background for the shift in strategy that took place along the way and the importance of preparedness for the government's choice of testing strategy.

  • How well-prepared were the healthcare system and the emergency response for handling a pandemic like COVID-19? Including whether previous governments' priorities in the healthcare sector have had an impact on COVID-19 response, and the prerequisites of the now-decommissioned epidemic commissions.

Last but not least, the report will contain recommendations on how best to handle a similar crisis. In addition, there will be a public consultation in the Danish Parliament, where the elected representatives will have the opportunity to ask the experts behind the report about its content, conclusions and recommendations.


Documentation

The Danish Parliament has appointed Emeritus Professor Jørgen Grønnegård Christensen from the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University to head a committee tasked with reviewing the government’s and the authorities’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Denmark. The other members of the committee are Helle Bødker Madsen, professor of medical law at the Department of Law, Aarhus University; Lars Østergaard, MD, PhD, professor at the Department of Infectious Diseases, Aarhus University Hospital; Dorte Gyrd-Hansen, professor of health economics at the Danish Centre for Health Economics, University of Southern Denmark; and Jostein Askim, professor of public administration at the Department of Political Science, University of Oslo. Parliament has asked the committee to scrutinize Denmark’s response to the virus, from the moment the first reports of the spread of the disease came from Wuhan in China early this year to the shutdown of the country in March and the reopening that began in April. Gags, not masks Jørgen Grønnegård Christensen told me that the committee has already begun its work. But even though it met for the first time yesterday, it’s hard to get a word out of Christensen about how the committee is planning to approach its work on the analysis that will be completed by late January 2021. There’s a good reason for that, he explained: “We’ve been asked to look backwards in terms of our response to COVID-19. But it seems pretty clear that this will remain a politically sensitive topic as we work throughout the autumn. So yesterday, the group decided that we won’t be saying much during that period, because that could easily make it more difficult for us to do our job.” The committee has also decided to keep a low profile for another reason as well: “We want to avoid a situation where statements we make are presented as conclusions before we’ve completed our analysis. So let me put it this way: We haven’t decided to put masks on, we’ve decided to put gags on!” The aim of committee’s analysis is to provide a foundation for learning as much as possible about the government’s and authorities’ handling of the initial phases of the COVID-19 crisis. On this background, we can draw conclusions that will benefit us if a similar situation arises in future. There’s a more concrete description of the committee’s focus in a report from the Danish Parliament’s committee on rules of procedure: “The majority wishes the experts to be given access to all relevant materials and documents, including the material and information received by the Prime Minister's Office in the initial phase from other ministries and agencies, with a special focus on the Ministry of Health, the Danish Health Authority, Statens Serum Institut, the Danish Medicines Agency, the Danish Patient Safety Authority, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Finance.” The next passage might make you raise your eyebrows, however: It reads: “Naturally, it will be up to the government to assess which materials it wishes to disclose, as under the law the government can only be forced to disclose these materials if a commission is appointed under the law on investigative committees.” Will have access to all available material Despite this caveat, Jørgen Grønnegård Christensen stressed that there is no reason to be concerned that the committee won’t be given access to all available material in connection with its analysis. “You might call that an initial reservation that was included when the report was written, which was a time of intense work at several levels. But that reservation has been dealt with, and we will be given access to all materials,” Christensen assured me. He added: “However, we will receive documents on internal deliberations in the government that we will not be able to quote directly, and so we’ll have to paraphrase them. On the background of the conclusions the group draws from the material, everyone will be able to see what we’ve arrived at in relation to what we’ve been asked to analyse. So it’s also a question of trust. Trust that we will perform our research with integrity.” May be necessary to prioritise The politicians’ list of things they’d like the committee to investigate this autumn is long. So the committee has also reserved the right to prioritise, and Christensen is quite clear about what’s most important: “The most important thing is to analyse the grounds on which the decision to shut down the country was taken, the advice the government was given in that connection by the authorities, as well as to clarify the entire decision-making process. These are the three most important issues for us to understand in order to assess whether there were steps in the process that weren’t entirely appropriate.”

Translated by Lenore Messick

FACTS

The purpose of the committee’s analysis is to discover what lessons are to be learned from the government’s and the authorities’ handling of the COVID-19 crisis – lessons that can be applied if a similar situation arises in future. To this end, the committee has been tasked with finding the answers to questions like:

  • What was the basis for the emergency legislation that was passed in connection with the shutdown?Here the committee will evaluate the nature of the health-related and economic evidence on which the emergency legislation was based. And whether the evaluations of government officials and authorities could be freely communicated to Parliament and the public. 

  • What were the Danish Parliament's options for oversight of the government's actions during the shutdown?
  • What was the emergency response? What was the situation in terms of the authorities' testing capacity? And hospital treatment capacity? In relation to the above, the committee has been tasked with assessing the government's strategy, including the background for the shift in strategy that took place along the way and the importance of preparedness for the government's choice of testing strategy.

  • How well-prepared were the healthcare system and the emergency response for handling a pandemic like COVID-19? Including whether previous governments' priorities in the healthcare sector have had an impact on COVID-19 response, and the prerequisites of the now-decommissioned epidemic commissions.

Last but not least, the report will contain recommendations on how best to handle a similar crisis. In addition, there will be a public consultation in the Danish Parliament, where the elected representatives will have the opportunity to ask the experts behind the report about its content, conclusions and recommendations.


Documentation

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