The coronavirus epidemic is slowly heading towards "something that comes closer to flu" which should make possible future waves a bit more manageable, said virologist Marc Van Ranst.
Whilst infections continue to rise rapidly, Van Ranst told Het Laatste Nieuws that he is rather optimistic that better times are coming, and even relatively quickly.
"125,000 infections a day (as predicted by virologist Steven Van Gucht during the previous Consultative Committee meeting) seems like a very high figure to me," he said. "Other countries, which have more inhabitants, do not reach that figure."
However, it is "a certainty" that the figures will go up, although it is now one week since Belgium recorded an infection peak of 28,000 in a single day. Yet even if Belgium has yet to reach the infection peak, Van Ranst believes that numbers are levelling off. "In other countries, we are also seeing a stabilisation. The curve is now rising impressively steeply, but I do not expect this to last very long."
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He added that hospital admissions are increasing, but many patients in hospital do have Covid-19 but go to hospitals for other reasons. "In intensive care, there are still patients with the Delta variant, but there are relatively few new admissions."
Overall, patient numbers in intensive care, as well as the mortality rate, is decreasing. "The disease appears to be less severe and so we have to start to mentally adjust to that. This comes closer to flu and is something we can see every year. This is something we know."
Yet Van Ranst was quick not to downplay the severity of flu: "People end up in hospital because of it and people die too. Flu is certainly not something we should underestimate."
'A quiet spring and summer'
For virologist Steven Van Gucht, it is still too early to compare the Omicron variant to flu, even if the symptoms are milder than with the earlier variants.
"The number of infections has almost doubled compared to last week, and that while there are still a lot of measures in force. You do not have that with the flu," Van Gucht told VRT. "So it is still too early for that comparison."
As people start returning to work after the Christmas break and schools have reopened, the peak in daily infections is expected in a week or two. "In hospitals, we expect the peak at the end of this month, with 400 admissions a day."
However, Van Gucht said that he believes there is light at the end of the tunnel. "After this wave, we are entering a beautiful period. Many people have received a third dose. Many people have been infected with the Omicron and/or a previous variant. Immunity is getting better and better, so I expect a quiet spring and summer allowing us to relax restrictions."
But the complete liberty promised last year should not be expected, he said. "New variants are always going to emerge, that is how viruses work. But that does not necessarily have to be a problem."