Coronavirus – Ethics And Rationality In Decision-Making


Implementation of restrictions in various European countries has made me realise to what extent we all took things for granted. Gone are the days where we could eat out, go to the cinema, or visit a museum, without thinking twice about it. But the coronavirus outbreak has also cast a shadow over my dental practice. Up to last December, I had no problems ordering surgical face masks, 80% alcohol, and hand sanitizer. How different it is now. Face masks are not only three times as expensive, but are much more difficult to find. My next delivery of 80% alcohol has not yet arrived, and I have not yet managed to replenish my hand-gel stock.

Infection prevention protocols in The Netherlands are strict. Only surgical face masks having a EN14683 label are permitted. These face masks are the most effective at keeping out bacteria and viruses present in aerosol droplets. I have ordered a large stock of face masks that has been made available, but these face masks carry only a CE label.

According to the Dutch Ministry of Health website,

Medical devices with a CE label have the right quality guarantees for the intended application. This has not been assessed for products without CE marking or for any other application.


It is of course the responsibility of the care provider in that case to make a careful and responsible assessment between the various risks that the use of an alternative device entails and the responsibility to provide care, either individually or within the professional group.

It is up to me to apply a level of hygiene that is compatible with providing safe and ethical dental care, that remains within the (modified) guidelines. The modification of current guidelines seems to be the only alternative to replenishing dwindling stocks of surgical face masks and disinfectants. Failure to do so would force me to stop treating patients, and I suspect that I wouldn’t be the only one to have to do so.


The coronavirus outbreak poses many ethical and practical problems that go well beyond the four walls of my treatment room. Foremost, is the extent to which the authorities can impose restrictions on freedom of movement of individuals, so as to protect the community as a whole.

We must all accept that there was a life prior to the coronavirus, that will be noticeably different to that after the pandemic. The equilibrium between man and nature has been breached in no uncertain way, and we must take the present situation as a warning –  a warning we might just get away with.

In an eloquent speech delivered on national television, French president Emmanuel Macron pleaded for unity in combatting the coronavirus pandemic. Everyone is affected, and everyone can play a part in combatting the virus.

Decisions taken by national governments must not only be based on the most recent and trustworthy scientific studies, but must also be rational. Donald Trump’s decision to suspend European flights, with the exception of the UK, is not only irrational but also dangerous because it only underscores why the American president cannot be trusted and doesn’t inspire confidence. Whereas morality tells us not to endanger the health of our own with the sickness of others, rationality tells us that isolating the sick by locking the front door of your home is of no use if you leave the toilet window wide open.

It is not division that will allow us to respond to what is today a global crisis, but rather our ability to see things right together and act together […] This virus does not have a passport. – Emmanuel Macron

Donald Trump’s decision is all the more flawed when you take into account Boris Johnson’s assessment of the situation in the UK,

It is going to spread further and I must level with you, I must level with the British public: many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time. – Boris Johnson

Donald Trump’s decision to exclude the UK from his black list is filled with emotional and political undertones. He has always considered the EU as the arch-enemy of the US,

You know, with Europe, we lose approximately… 180 billion, 181 billion dollars. The Europeans have taken advantage of us—I’m serious, worse than China. They have worse trade barriers than China—they don’t take our product, we take their product. They send us cars, they don’t take our cars. Europe has treated us very badly. – Donald Trump


Rational thinking is, “a process by which we use our knowledge and intelligence to effectively arrive at the most reasonable and justifiable positions on issues, and which endeavors to identify and overcome the numerous hindrances to rational thinking.” (1) You don’t have to be intelligent to be ale to think rationally, but must be capable to make abstraction of any preconceptions and emotions that will interfere with the thinking process.

The question of whether schools should be closed poses two problems. From a rational point of view, it is difficult to understand why researchers who study the same virus acting in similar environments, come up with different answers. President Macron based his decision to close schools and universities, on advice from leading French researchers.

As from Monday, and until further notice, crèches, junior high schools, high schools and universities will be closed for a simple reason: Our children and young people are the ones who spread the virus the quickest.  – Emmanuel Macron


The advice given seems to be at odds with that given to Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, who has publicly defended his decision not to close schools.

Experts who advise us tell us: be careful, please leave those schools open. – Mark Rutte 

Rational thinking must be brought to its logical conclusion, and there is no stopping half-way along the thinking process. The decision of small Italian supermarkets to allow a restricted number of customers in at any given time, got lost when they allowed dozens of customers to queue in the street.

Through his tweets, Donald Trump shows the world how irrational he is, and how he plays on people’s emotions and fears. Open borders must be closed, to fend off foreigners and their dirty illnesses. What Trump did not mention in his tweet, is that there are 1629 reported cases in the US and that the numbers are rising dramatically. We must certainly not blame others for having unwillingly passed on the coronavirus.

The pandemic will be controlled, but vanquishing the coronavirus will have a cost that is both economic and cultural. Whereas an economic downturn can be reversed, cultural changes may be here to stay, post-corona. The disappearance of the handshake may just be the tip of the iceberg.



(1) Haskins, Greg R.. A Practical Guide to Critical Thinking: Essential Steps for Developing Sound Reasoning and Arguments while Overcoming Hindrances to Rational Thinking . Greg R. Haskins. Kindle Edition.