The current epidemic of the new coronavirus (Covid-19) could last another ten weeks, according to virologist Marc Van Ranst.
That prediction goes much further than the measures in place during the present lockdown, which were announced as lasting until 5 April. Economic measures such as relief from paying tax and social security for the self-employed, and compensation premiums for businesses that have to close, have only been calculated up to that date, now two weeks away.
Van Ranst is one of the country’s foremost experts; he not only heads the reference laboratory at the university of Leuven, but also has experience of previous epidemics, including the SARS epidemic that was caused by a previous coronavirus.
Speaking on VRT Radio, he said, “It’s apparently going to last longer, and we have to prepare ourselves.”
His prediction is influenced by the development of the situation in Wuhan in China, where the outbreak started. Authorities there have now reported no new local cases for two days in a row – the first zero results since the virus first appeared in December.
“Even an average flu epidemic in Belgium lasts about ten weeks,” he said. “In Wuhan it’s been similar, and it will be like that in Belgium too.”
There is, however, no way of saying at this moment when the peak will arrive.
“That question is very difficult to answer. Everyone thinks it will be tomorrow, but I can guarantee that’s not right. We will only be sure that the epidemic has peaked when the figures go down for a few days in a row. As long as the curve travels upwards, you can’t say the peak has passed. That’s something you can only say once it’s gone by.”
For the time being, he said, the situation on the ground is good.
“It’s getting busier in some areas, and you can feel the tension rising, but we have sufficient admission capacity. In some hospitals they’re even still waiting for their first corona patient.”
That evaluation was confirmed by Le Soir, which polled hospitals in Brussels, all of which currently stand well below capacity, although they all expect a sudden rise in numbers to come at some point.
St-Pierre now has 20 cases, all but one aged over 75, with 11 in intensive care and the rest in the Covid-19 unit, which has 35 beds.
At the St-Luc clinic, there are 15 patients in the two Covid-19 units and five in intensive care, which has 50 beds.
At Erasmus hospital, there are 11 confirmed infections and 26 suspected.
“The number of patients testing positive has been increasing progressively over the last few days, as in the other hospitals,” said St-Luc spokesperson Sylvain Bayet.
“As provided for in the emergency hospital plan launched last Saturday, we have increased our capacity for these patients, but the situation is under control, and there is no risk of saturation for the time being.”