Covid-19 infections and hospitalisations are again on the rise in Belgium, indicating the start of a new (small) wave of infections, according to virologist Marc Van Ranst.
The average number of new Covid-19 cases rose by 30% over the past week (to 8,075 per day). The actual figures will be higher as not everyone gets tested rigorously or officially, Van Ranst told Het Laatste Nieuws on Wednesday.
"This is clearly another (small) wave that is coming. Fortunately, the number of people in intensive care is still going down, as is the number of Covid-19 deaths. But the fact that admissions and the total number of people in hospital are going up is still something to monitor."
The rise is likely due to the lifting of most restrictions, which coincided with the end of Carnival holidays when many people returned from skiing holidays.
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Additionally, the flu is also on the rise again in Belgium – "as expected" for this time of year, Van Ranst says. "We have had it under control for two years, but now the influenza virus is back. There is an outbreak – limited at the moment – which is also being monitored."
He added that while the healthcare system is no longer under the extreme pressure it was at the end of last year, a lot of people are still in need of care. "Many people now have an Omicron infection or – if they are sick and have the same symptoms – suspected influenza. The situation in hospitals is still not comfortable."
But introducing new measures again is not currently on the agenda, said Van Ranst. "I do not think anyone is advocating that at the moment. It would also be very difficult in terms of public support and would lead to a lot of disappointment."
'Virologists are always worried'
Still, he stressed the need for caution and said that some measures, such as keeping a little more distance from others and being careful with close contacts, have become habits for many. "Everyone can do that for themselves. Also, make sure you are always in well-ventilated areas."
Van Ranst doesn't expect a dramatic rise in numbers but will continue to monitor the situation. "You cannot control it completely. It depends on how we behave as a population. Virologists are always worried, we are keeping an eye on it."
Many countries are preparing to administer second booster shots, something that Belgium is also looking into. "Currently, the fourth shot is being rolled out for people with a weakened immune system and resistance problems. This can be generalised, but it is up to the government to decide."
"As long as the severe infections and the impact on intensive care and mortality stay down, I think they will hold off for a bit. But they are also looking at what is happening in other countries," Van Ranst said.