Belgium 'should have stayed in code orange a bit longer,' says Vlieghe

Belgium 'should have stayed in code orange a bit longer,' says Vlieghe
Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenrboucke (left) and GEMS chair Erika Vlieghe. Credit: Belga

Belgium should have stayed in 'code orange' of the coronavirus barometer a little longer, according to Erika Vlieghe, the chair of the GEMS expert group advising the government.

Vlieghe does not feel entirely "at ease" about the rising figures and the dominance of the even more infectious BA.2-Omicron variant, she said in an interview with Knack on Tuesday.

"Despite all our enthusiasm for believing in the wishful thinking that the coronavirus epidemic was completely over, I think it would have been better if we had stayed in orange a little longer," she said. Belgium moved into 'code yellow' in early March, despite not having reached all thresholds for the switch.

Vlieghe said that she realises that her opinion differs from that of Corona Commissioner Pedro Facon and Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke, "but we should have lifted the measures more incrementally. Week after week, the Risk Assessment Group (RAG) of the GEMS also warned that this was going too fast."

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She stressed that it is "very unfortunate" that the mask obligation has disappeared nearly everywhere when 'code yellow' went into effect. "This subject is very sensitive, but those masks did have an effect."

The recent rise in figures shows that the virus has not disappeared, said Vlieghe. "We have been telling people for a long time: 'things are getting better, but they are not over yet.' But suddenly and silently, and in the same week that Russia invaded Ukraine, the realm of freedom arrived. I hope we remain cautious."

'Not preaching hellfire and damnation'

She stressed that she "does not want to create panic, or preach hellfire and damnation," but "it is just a sober observation: it is not over yet. Yet, all measures have been abandoned."

Therefore, Vlieghe pleads to keep following the measures, particularly when coming into contact with elderly and vulnerable people. "We all know what I am talking about by now: wear a face mask, keep a distance, limit your contacts and do a self-test before meeting others."

In Parliament on Tuesday, Vandenbroucke also called for caution now that the figures are going up again, and virologist Steven Van Gucht also called for these basic measures to be maintained last week.

Vlieghe will remain the chair of the GEMS expert group until the beginning of April, when the Corona Commission ceases its activities.

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