Health care organizations have been challenged by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic for some time, while in January 2020, it was not immediately suspected that it would take such a global expansion. In the past, other studies have already pointed out that health care systems, and more specifically hospitals, can be a so-called “soft target” for terrorist attacks. This report has now examined whether this is also the case in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the lockdown, hospitals turned out to be the only remaining soft targets for attacks, given that the other classic targets were closed during the lockdown. On the other hand, other important factors have limited the risk of such attacks in hospitals. The main delaying and relative risk-reducing factors were the access control on temperature and wearing a mask, no visits allowed, limited consultations, and investigations.
But even then, health care systems and hospitals were prone to (cyber)terrorism, as shown by other COVID-19-related institutions, such as pharmaceuticals involved in developing vaccines and health care facilities involved in swab testing and contact tracing. Counter-terrorism medicine (CTM) and social behavioral science can reduce the likelihood and impact of terrorism, but cannot prevent (state-driven) cyberterrorism and actions of lone wolves and extremist factions.