Public health experts have joined in warning the public that any relaxation of the rules on protection against the spread of the coronavirus could have serious and long-lasting consequences.
As the casualty figures are released daily, it becomes apparent that although the number of deaths remains high, it is falling. At the same time, the number of people being admitted to hospital suffering from the virus is going down – an indication that the measures in place to slow down the spread of the disease are having the desired effect.
However, the Easter holidays have coincided with a period of fine weather, and there is evidence that people are taking the confinement measures less seriously. Both motoring organisation Touring and the Brussels public transport authority Stib report an increase in non-essential journeys
“It is possible that we have quietly left the peak of the epidemic behind us,” said virologist Steven Van Gucht at Saturday’s press briefing by the government crisis centre.
His colleague Professor Marc Van Ranst agreed, but issued a caveat.
“The curve has just started to turn downwards, and is still very fragile,” he told VRT News. “If everyone doesn’t do their best now, it will start to climb again. I understand people are fed up with the lockdown. Nobody is enjoying it, but the rules really do still need to be followed.”
A reminder: the national rules to be followed are in place until April 19, and are likely to be maintained for a further period until May 3. They include staying at home and making only essential trips for food, to visit the doctor or pharmacy, for banking or to take moderate exercise in one’s own neighbourhood.
In all cases, when outside, the rules of social distancing must be followed: keep a minimum distance of 1.5m from others. Shops and other open public places must respect a limit on the number of people admitted at one time.
The government is due on Wednesday to decide on the situation post-April 19, when the existing measures are likely to be extended. Prof. Van Ranst, meanwhile, warned of a more dire possibility.
“Some people seem to be thumbing their noses at distancing rules,” he wrote on Facebook. “These are individuals whose bad behaviour is going to ensure that a Wuhan-style lockdown comes nearer. And then you won’t be allowed to go outside at all to exercise or to work.”
“Everyone needs to understand how fragile the situation is for the time being, and how close we are to the current measures being made tougher, in the event that the number of hospital admissions starts to rise again.”
It’s not only in Brussels that the problem is being noticed.
On Facebook and Twitter, two doctors from the Sint-Trudo hospital in Sint-Truiden described angrily the situation where they are.
“Just been in the Aldi,” tweeted Dr Jochen Nijs. “Unlimited admission. People lined up nose to tail. Never heard of social distancing? This makes me so angry.”
Meanwhile his colleague, Dr Joan Vlayen posted, “People, a message from the front line. This is just not done. Sint-Truiden has been at the forefront of the epidemic since the start. We are now seeing an increase in traffic in our hospital. If people this coming weekend slacken off on the rules, in a week’s time we’ll have an Italian situation on our hands. You have been warned.”