Covid-19 patients in intensive care could remain below 1,000, says Van Gucht

If the current slowdown in new coronavirus infections continues, it will be possible to ensure the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care will remain below 1,000, according to virologist Steven Van Gucht.

Since the start of this week, the rise in the number of new Covid-19 cases being detected on a daily basis has slowed down slightly for the first time in weeks, a trend which should soon also be reported in the number of hospitalisations and patients being treated in ICU.

"The number of hospitalisations is still rising, and we probably will pass the mark of 800 ICU beds being occupied by Covid-19 patients," Van Gucht told The Brussels Times.

"But you can see that the increase in new hospitalisation keeps getting smaller and smaller, so it is possible that within this week, or by next week, the situation could stabilise."

Although he was careful to make early predictions about a possible stabilisation in the figures, he added that this should also have an effect on the rise in the number of ICU patients soon.

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"We can see that these numbers are still rising at a relatively quick pace now, but that is normal because the hospital figures are delayed parameters, meaning they are one of the last ones to peak and then decrease."

Van Gucht added that in this case, and if people continue to follow the measures put in place by the government, it will be possible to ensure the number of ICU beds occupied by Covid-19 patients will not surpass 1,000.

"That is still a lot, and let's say that is not the most optimistic scenario, but this is also not the worst-case scenario," he said, referring to the predicted scenarios presented to the government in November.

In these five scenarios, based on calculations made by the UAntwerpen and UHasselt’s SIMID consortium, experts predicted that more than 1,200 Covid-19 patients could be in ICU by December, resulting in hospitals running out of beds, if the infection rate didn't start decreasing.

The more positive scenarios predicted that if the situation remained stable earlier in November, or if they had decreased following the Consultative Committee on 17 November, a peak ICU occupancy of around maximum of 750 beds could have been reached in December, however, experts had already predicted these scenarios were not realistic.

Infections slowing down, except among children

Between 21 and 27 November, an average of 17,839 new coronavirus infections was identified every day, an increase of 12% increase compared to the previous week. Although this number is still rising, it is doing so at a much slower pace than during previous weeks.

This is a trend that is being seen across most of the population, except among children. Van Gucht highlighted that a big difference can be seen between primary and secondary schools.

"There are much more infections in primary schools than in secondary schools. The strongest increase in infections is always seen in children under 12, who unfortunately have not been vaccinated, so there is nothing they can do about it," Van Gucht said.

The increase in the infections recorded in secondary schools mirrors the one seen in the rest of society, and according to Van Gucht, this is because these young people are vaccinated.

"In primary schools, there are only students who cannot be vaccinated. That makes it much easier for the virus to spread among them."

He added that although the infections are mostly brought back to schools, it is not clear if this is where children are becoming infected.

"Those children often have hobbies, brothers and sisters, they could pick up the infection anywhere. Just because it is often reported through schools, that does not necessarily mean that these infections are happening within schools."

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