Belgium's coronavirus figures have stopped decreasing, as the number of infections is rising and the hospitalisations have stopped falling as well, experts stated at a press conference on Wednesday.
More infections are being detected due to the high number of travellers being tested, but an underlying increase in the number of infections is also happening, according to virologist and interfederal Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht.
"The downward trend in the coronavirus figures has been broken," he said. "The number of new cases has risen sharply in the past week, and hospital admissions seem to have stopped decreasing in recent days as well."
The rapid rise in infection rates is mainly due to a sharp increase in testing, especially among young people, who often have not been vaccinated yet and are now getting tested as a condition for travelling, according to Van Gucht.
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However, as a slight increase in the number of cases with Covid symptoms is also observed, he suspects that there is also a real underlying increase in the number of infections.
This increase can be explained by three factors, according to Van Gucht.
"Firstly, as mentioned before: travel. A lot more testing is done before people leave on a trip, and more tests mean that more cases are found," he said.
Often it concerns infections without symptoms, or possibly old infections that are only now being picked up.
"Travelling itself can also be a risk factor, as the percentage of positive tests is higher among returnees (2.2%) than among those leaving (below 1%)," Van Gucht said.
A second factor is likely the general change in people's behaviour as a result of the easing of restrictions, according to him. "We see an increase in the number of contacts, and in the number of infections between family members and friends."
"A third factor is the emergence of the delta variant, which is more infectious than the previous variant, and now causes about 50% of infections in Belgium," he said.
While it is possible that the increase in the number of infections will also translate into an increase in the number of hospital admissions, Van Gucht expects it to be less pronounced.
"This is because mainly young people are now becoming infected, and older people, or those with a high-risk profile, fortunately already have full or partial protection thanks to the vaccine."