'Corona fatigue' and returning travellers caused new rise in infections

'Corona fatigue' and returning travellers caused new rise in infections
© Belga

The increase in Belgium's daily average of new coronavirus infections was inevitable, according to several experts, pointing to the people returning from holidays recently as well as what they call "corona fatigue."

After a week of stabilising infection figures, the number of new cases, as well as hospital admissions, have started going up again, according to Sciensano's latest figures. The last increase dates back to 16 August.

"We felt [the increase] coming, because the decrease in the weekly average was very slow," epidemiologist Pierre Van Damme told Het Laatste Nieuws. "Then you know that any number that is added per day, can probably go above 500 or even up to 600."

Additionally, the reproduction number (R-number) in eight provinces is higher than 1. "For each infection today, we will also get a new infection tomorrow. We will have to monitor this well in the coming days and weeks," he added.

Two big factors contributed to the increase, according to Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst. "The first factor is the return from holidays," he said on Radio 1, referring to the "hundreds of thousands of people" who have returned from countries where there are more infections than in Belgium, such as France and Spain.

"We know that a lot of Belgian families are coming back from countries that are currently turning red - such as Spain, France and Croatia - and we are going to see that in the different age groups," Van Damme confirmed Van Ranst's statement.

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At the moment, coronavirus infections mainly occur in the age group between 10 to 50 years old. "The trick now is to keep it that way," Van Damme said, in order to avoid an increase in the number of hospitalisations, which mainly occur more in higher age groups.

A second big factor is growing fatigue towards the coronavirus measures, according to Van Ranst. "This means that the measures are being followed less, and we can see this in the figures."

The recently published open letters and opinion pieces questioning the rules also play a part in that, Van Ranst said.

However, he pointed out that this is a recurring phenomenon in every epidemic. "Especially when the figures go down. Then, it is normal for people to criticise the measures," said Van Ranst, who warned that "we must remain vigilant."

To make sure people do not get even more tired of the measures, it is important to remove the "excesses" from the rules, such as the face mask obligation in places where it is not necessary.

Additionally, the stricter measures in August did bear fruit. "Had we not taken them then, we would now be in a situation like France or Spain. We are asking the people to make an effort, but it is helping," Van Damme added.

Both experts stressed the need to remain watchful, especially now that schools have reopened, as the virus will remain in society for a long time.

"It is clear that we are not going to get rid of this by Christmas," Van Ranst said. "Nevertheless, we must try to make the best of it."

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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