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Belgium can’t rule out another lockdown, experts warn

Experts across Belgium have started to come out with a fairly unified opinion in light of the increasing infection numbers in the country.

At this time, they cannot rule out the possibility of another lockdown.

“During the first lockdown, politicians said: ‘We will never do that again’. That was wrong. Because that is how you kind of take that off the table a bit,” said virologist Marc Van Ranst. “We cannot rule out that we will have another lockdown soon,” he told Het Laste Nieuws

Within a week, Belgium will see if the most recent measures have had any effect, he said, adding that the figures will not drop by themselves.

“We will have to wait and see, but I think we should be ready with another set of measures if there is no effect by then.”

According to biostatistician Geert Molenberghs, Belgium is nearing a point of no return.

“It is not five minutes to midnight, it is a quarter past midnight. We really are in the final phase before a lockdown,” biostatistician Geert Molenberghs said on VTM News on Sunday.

“Hopefully, we can still avoid it. But then we really have to take a number of measures,” he said.

Such measures could include “making teleworking compulsory again, instead of recommended. But also intervening in cafeterias of sports clubs and in the hospitality sector.” Canteens and cafés could also be closed entirely, according to Molenbergs. “We have now brought forward the closing time, but in areas where the figures are bad, we should perhaps consider closing them.”

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Additionally, in higher education, online teaching is less painful than in secondary or primary school, Molenberghs said. “Young people are partly the motor of the epidemic. Surely, we will need to focus on that.”

Speaking on Monday, Molenberghs elaborated on this idea, suggesting there is a need to look into restrict amateur sports and youth activities if necessary” before progressing to talk of a full-blown lockdown.

“We see that clusters are forming in leisure sports, among other things,” Molenberghs told Radio 2 Limburg. “The government should take a close look at youth activities and amateur sports and possibly even restrict them for a while”.

Federal health minister Frank Vandenbroucke too has declined to rule out a new lockdown, telling VTM News on Sunday that he was not ready to guarantee anything.

“The only thing I can guarantee is that if we work together and all do the same things, we have the best chance of achieving what we want to achieve: to keep the schools open, keep businesses working and allow the hospitals to cope.”

Dr Erika Vlieghe, an advisor to the national security council, the trend is not only “dramatic” but also “terrifying”.

“If we already had a corona barometer, it would now be orange. But our country is clearly on its way to red,” she warned, speaking on the VRT’s De Zevende Dag.

“The curve has a completely exponential character again. It’s not going well, we must say that in all fairness. We shouldn’t scare people, but we should tell it like it is. And then try to do something about it.”

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Monday already opened with some pretty drastic news for Belgium. According to European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) data, Belgium is now the second-worst country in Europe in terms of coronavirus infections per 100,000 inhabitants.

Furthermore, figures continue to rise, with 4,000 additional people per day testing positive for the new coronavirus (Covid-19) in Belgium over the past week, and warnings that over 10,000 new coronavirus cases per day is possible this week.

“The coronavirus figures in Belgium continue to rise alarmingly,” said virologist and interfederal Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht during a press conference, adding that a record number of over 6,500 cases were recorded on one day on Wednesday.

“Currently, the number of new infections is doubling every eight days. If this trend continues, we will see days with more than 10,000 new infections by the end of this week,” he said.

Jules Johnston & Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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