The expected fourth wave of coronavirus infections will likely hit Belgium in the autumn but it will mainly affect the non-vaccinated, according to Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon.
As a number of relaxations to Belgium's coronavirus measures come into force today (Wednesday), experts have stated that the combination of schools starting a new year and the return to work for many will likely see the number of Covid cases go up again this autumn.
"There will probably be a fourth wave, maybe a fifth and a sixth wave too, but that will be mainly for the non-vaccinated, and they will have to take their own responsibility," Jambon told the Belga news agency on Wednesday.
He also stated that, if or when that next wave hits, the authorities are not immediately considering the reintroduction or tightening of certain measures. "However, we will make sure that the non-vaccinated are well taken care of in our care system. That's what it's there for."
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While it is almost certain that this fourth wave will come, its intensity will depend on the extent to which people stick to the measures, warned virologist Steven Van Gucht on Tuesday.
"Adapted behaviour can ensure that we smooth out the waves and avoid high peaks, which is especially important for hospitals," he said.
But Jambon urged that Belgium - and Flanders in particular - is ready for the relaxations, thanks to its high vaccination rate.
"Otherwise we would not have done it," he stressed. "Flanders leads the world in vaccination coverage and willingness to get vaccinated, including among young people."
As of Wednesday 1 September, 83.4% of the adult population in Belgium has been fully vaccinated, and that number even rises to 90% in Flanders, according to the latest figures by the Sciensano national health institute.
In terms of the entire population in Belgium, 70.6% of all residents, including minors, are now fully vaccinated.
Even though a 70% vaccination rate was initially put forward as the threshold for herd immunity, experts have in the meantime stated that - especially in light of the Delta variant - there is "no magic number," but that as many people as possible should get vaccinated.
"If the population is so committed, there has to be something in return," Jambon said. "Today, we are taking a big step towards regaining our freedom."