Belgium may need international aid as coronavirus hospitalisations surge, epidemiologist warns

Belgium may need international aid as coronavirus hospitalisations surge, epidemiologist warns
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Belgium may require to requisition hotels, deploy the army and call for international aid as the coronavirus pandemic continues to push the national health system over the edge of collapse, one epidemiologist said.

"We are going to have to get very creative to limit damages in our hospitals and nursing homes as much as possible,"  Epidemiologist Pierre Van Damme, professor of medicine at the University of Antwerp, said.

Van Damme said that, as the country's health care capacity threatens to overflow, Belgium may also have to appeal to other countries for help, according to 7sur7.

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On Wednesday, as the rise of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations outpaced governments' rushed attempts to rein them in, Van Damme sound the alarm, saying the country's health care could crack "within ten days."

"We have a very good hospital network but if we respond late rather than early, that will translate into the figures we are seeing," he said.

Officials with national health institute Sciensano echoed his warnings on Wednesday, with spokesperson Steven Van Gucht saying in the daily press conference that, with figures doubling every eight days, the country 2,000 intensive care beds would all be full by next week.

In his latest statements, Van Damme said governments would need to begin getting creative to find whatever health care space they can, including through the requisition of properties.

"People who require less in-hospital care could be transferred into a hotel, where an ambulatory care unit of sorts could be set up. That is what we did in March and April."

He also said that the government could deploy the army to assist the health care sector. During the first wave, the army already lent out ventilators to support hospitals who did not have enough to treat critical Covid-19 patients.

Van Damme, who in mid-April warned that Belgium was yet to reach peak infections, said leaders may need to call for international assistance to face the growing wave of infections and looked to Germany as a potential provider.

"The will is there and they also have enough space, because they have the largest concentration of intensive care beds per inhabitant," he said.

Germany on Wednesday moved the country back into a partial lockdown, shutting down all bars and cafes and restricting social contacts, in what Van Damme saw as a swift move to action in comparison to Belgium's own moves.

"Moving in time vs. moving too late," he said about the difference between both countries.

"Germany announced a lockdown light on Wednesday, at a time when they are registering much fewer infections per 100,000 inhabitants than Belgium. Through this drastic limitation of contacts, the German government is looking to cap the growing number of contaminations by Christmas."

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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