As the number of coronavirus hospital admissions continues to increase, Belgian hospitals have to switch back to phase 1A, meaning they have to reserve 25% of intensive care beds for Covid patients.
Between 1 and 7 September, an average of 70 people ended up in hospital every day - a 14% increase - bringing the total number of Covid patients to 701 in Belgium.
Due to this increase, the Hospital & Transport Surge Capacity Committee (HTSC) is telling all hospitals to scale up to phase 1A as a precautionary measure by Wednesday 15 September.
However, the scaling up does not automatically mean that a new wave is coming, according to Marcel Van Der Auwera, president of the HTSC. "Fortunately, vaccination has ensured that we are not now facing an exponential rise, as in those first waves," he said on Flemish radio.
"In the best-scenario, the scaling up will soon no longer be necessary, but in the worst-case scenario, we see this increase in admissions continue, and in the next few weeks we will come close to 15% occupancy of intensive care by Covid patients," Van Der Auwera said. "We do not want to wait for that."
Brussels is currently "the engine of the epidemic," but other provinces are also experiencing high occupancy rates in intensive care, according to him.
"In Antwerp and Liege, some 15% of people in intensive care are coronavirus patients: there, too, it is time to step up," Van Der Auwera added.
This means that hospitals must reserve 25% of their intensive care beds for coronavirus patients, which comes down to 500 ICU beds out of the 2,000 that all Belgian hospitals have available together.
Due to the once-again increasing number of coronavirus patients in the hospital, 12 hospitals in Belgium are forced to postpone regular non-urgent care again.
From 25%, a rapid scaling up to 50% is a logical next step in case of an exponential increase, but as in March 2021, today "a slow but sustained increase is observed, and then this step is too big," the Committee said.
Therefore, today, also as in March 2021, an intermediate step between phase 1A and phase 1B, the phase 1A+, with a target value of 33.3% (1/3) of the recognised intensive care capacity, was added.