Experts: lockdown will go on in some form after April 5
Saturday, 21 March 2020
Brussels Grand Place under lockdown
The measures taken so far to tackle the spread of the coronavirus will be maintained in some form even after April 5, experts on the situation have made clear.
Until now, the steps taken so far – the closure of bars and restaurants, schools and non-essential shops – have been set for review after April 3. In the case of schools, that coincides with the start of the Easter holiday.
When the measures were intensified later, introducing teleworking wherever possible, imposing a lockdown except in exceptional circumstances, the same timetable was assumed.
However, experts have more recently made it clear that that weekend, just 13 days away, will not bring an end to the current situation. At best, we might see a number of measures relaxed, but even that is not certain.
This week saw the number of new cases among local people in Wuhan in China, where the pandemic broke out, go down to zero for three days in a row. That would be considered the peak for China, when the climb in numbers reaches its height and starts to come down again.
Asked when Belgium might experience its peak, virologist Steven Van Gucht explained, “It could take some time yet. With the measures we have taken, we will certainly have an impact on the further progress [of the disease]. But what we are doing with our measures is flattening the peak, and pushing it forward in time.”
In other words, rather than allow the numbers to climb without restraint, the government has taken measures designed to spread out the growth so that hospitals can continue to cope. But that has the effect of making the peak come later.
Judging by the evolution of the situation in Wuhan, government expert Prof. Marc Van Ranst estimated that Belgium could still be in growth mode in ten weeks. Or 15 April, if counting from the first confirmed case in Belgium.
But the Chinese took far more drastic and far-reaching protective measures than Belgium. Counting from the first shutdown announced on 13 March, a ten-week period would last until 22 May.
How long might the measures be maintained, Van Gucht was asked.
“That depends on the figures, but bear in mind that after April 5 we will not be letting go of all measures,” he said. “Which ones will that be? That depends on the evaluation of the coming days and weeks.”
Van Ranst, speaking on VTM News, said, “The Easter holidays will be like no other Easter holidays ever. That’s becoming clear. Even in the best-case scenario, if we start to see a turn-around next week, it will still be impossible to stop the measures right away. There will be an evaluation. Anyone looking at the situation will understand that we will not be done with the measures at that moment of evaluation.”
Asked if the summer holidays too could be in jeopardy, he declined to be reassuring.
“People can dream, they have to. But actually going and making plans, that runs the risk that it might not happen. Best to be cautious.”