Iliyan Vasilev is a diplomat, Ambassador of Bulgaria to Russia 2000-2006, expert in international relations, economy, finance, energy.
Mr. Vasilev, if we look not at the medical but the socio-political fabric of the covid-19 theme, what has the government of the state given birth to since the beginning of the crisis 8 months ago?
The first thing it gave birth to was the legacy of an unfit health care system. Secondly, it caused confusion – instead of following the ready-made 2006 pandemic action plan, drawn up on WHO instructions, it went towards improvisations. It was clear to everyone that the National Headquarters (NH) was untenable in terms of its credentials. The above mentioned pandemic plan provides for a crisis headquarters, headed by the country's deputy prime minister.
However, the responsibility must lie with the executive.
The logic of crisis response implies that different ministries should be engaged in countering. We went the wrong way. And we got into the matrix of governance, which works on the principle of "trial and error".
This matrix works not only in the field of healthcare.
That's right. From the TV screens, Borisov announces what he wants or doesn't want and acts like the good king. But he's a leader – he personally has to take responsibility and acknowledge the mistakes that have been made. In such situations, policies are built on three main elements. Early diagnosis and early recognition of risks comes first. The second part is competence – information should turn into knowledge and hence into action by sifting through everything unnecessary. The third element is the most important – trust which is the communication of decisions because at the beginning of something unknown, no one has a "golden key."
There's no “golden key” but there are "golden people." Such is Chen Chien Jen, who became the world's star in the fight against the virus. Under his leadership there has been not a single internally infected citizen in Taiwan for 200 days, seven months! What are they doing there? Part of the measures are that the tests are completely free, and the isolated are paid everything – staying at home, medical care, food and all other personal needs. Is there a comparison with these practices?
How do we compare them? Our team contacted a professor from South Korea who also cited Taiwan's recipe. And we haven't figured out the isolation algorithm yet. We've been drifting through the testing for a long time and to this day we don't test en masse.
There were "two schools of thought on the subject" – one for PCR tests and the other- for quick tests.
We also disrupted the algorithm of diagnosis and treatment in which the doctor appoints the diagnosis, not the lab technician. Laboratory analysis is just a reason. There were also not enough infectious disease specialists.
A mycologist was the most vocal in the headquarters.
There were no active practitioners in the field of viruses in the NH. There were a lot of fears. There is an analogy with the banks – if rumors are not responded to early enough, the system collapses. Thanks to the philosophy under which Borisov manages, first, the problem is expected to explode, afterwards, controversy is planted in society – doctors against doctors, parents against teachers, etc. It's all to distract from the real problems.
Without being taken personally, this is the firefighter's principle – you wait for the fire to ignite and run with the fire hose, instead of preventively eliminating the causes of possible fires.
That's the problem. We've probably already spent over BGN 5 billion. At least 60-70%of it went under the firefighter’s principle – the money is given, the effect is doubtful and the problem remains. A maximum of 10-20% of the money will be spent as intended. Everything else has been absorbed.
Millions and billions are constantly flying in the communication space while statistics show the following: in Europe, countries have set aside 10-12 percent of their GDP to fight the coronavirus on average, while in our country the share is about 2 percent.
Because these people don't understand management, they're looking for a foothold in some out-of-context metrics arguing, for example, that our GDP has not fallen much, that we are not very indebted. The first and fundamental principle is not to look at how much GDP has fallen or how much the deficit is – these data alone are not a measure of the crisis. The important thing is to preserve the ability of the system to be revived and to come out of the crisis stronger.
European experts have calculated that our GDP will fall by 7%, we have calculated it at 3 percent. They predicted 5 per cent growth for Bulgaria for 2021, we forecast 2 per cent. There's a numbers game in here.
You may fall by 8% but tomorrow you can recover just as rapidly. Years of basic management and economics lessons have been missed. As far as antiviral measures are concerned, if you get a stroke, you can't wait two days for a PCR result in order to be treated, given that every minute is crucial. It is also a well-known fact that viruses are not treated with antibiotics. People panic more about the system than the virus.
Some time ago, medical students joked that flu is treated with antibiotics for a week and without them for seven days.
Exactly. For example, it should be known that the antibiotic kills the immune system and practically opens the door for the virus to do its job. Wasn’t that known back in March? The situation says, save yourself if you can, the ship has no helmsman. And the key word is solidarity, this is the basic capital of a society. How can there be solidarity when civil servants receive extra, pre-election money at the expense of the rest of the people? The crisis is raging, business is failing and the administration is prospering thanks to the tax-payers’ money.
That's why doctors fled around Europe. The problem is 10-12 years old and it is only now that this unreformed system has been proved to be exhausted.
Yes, it hasn't happened in the last three months. The privileges work as well: there are doctors with salaries of BGN 100,000, there are also with BGN 1000. Social justice is badly hurt, it's worse for society's immune system than the virus itself.
The problem with the virus has been politicized by the authorities but it can also be solved by a political decision that society must make – elections, regular or early. You came up with a proposal for the society to nominate the composition of a possible cabinet by name. Do you find this feasible?
We can name at least a dozen more capable candidates by each current minister, give the list to President Radev and this be an alternative reality. The problem is that in this muddy situation, it is not clear how many of them will accept the challenge, even if invited. And these people could be a public benchmark.
If elections are held under the current system, it is not excluded that they will produce the same result. Isn't it time for an alternative? In this respect, the US election has shown that a deferred postal vote can produce unsuspected activity. And we have a million and a half compatriots abroad who are keenly interested in the future of the country but are usually isolated from the vote?
Elections in the corona crisis are looming. It is no coincidence that in the United States, two-thirds of the citizens voted by mail. In any case, a secure remote voting system must be created in our country. Otherwise, many people may not go to the polls at all.