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    Belgium in Brief: Is April Cancelled?

    Credit: Unsplash/Wikicommons/ESA

    As we kick off another week of lockdown – with a new deadline to mark on the calendar – it looks like there’s a good chance we may spend most of April doing more of the same. As the country faced the announcement on Friday of another two weeks of strict restrictions, many have been anticipating the possibility of a second extension from 19 April to 3 May.

    So what is the latest in Belgium? We explain why Brussels smelled like manure at the weekend, delve into how snorkel masks are being used to ease medical shortages, and – as always – keep you informed on the latest figures

    With so much information, and so little time to catch up before it potentially changes again, here are some of the top stories from around the country to get you up to speed.

    Belgium in Brief is a free daily roundup of the top stories to get you through your lunch break conversations. To receive it straight to your inbox every day, sign up below:



    1. Belgium reaches 11,899 confirmed cases

    1,063 new people have tested positive for the new coronavirus (Covid-19), confirmed the FPS Public Health during a press conference on Monday.

    683 of the newly-infected people live in Flanders, 164 live in Wallonia, and 198 live in Brussels. The FPS does not yet have further information on the place of residence of 18 other people. The total number of cases in Belgium, since the beginning of the pandemic, is 11,899. Read more.

    2. Brussels hospital turns snorkel masks into respirators

    A Brussels hospital will start using snorkelling mask prototypes to treat coronavirus patients in need of moderate breathing assistance in order to make up for a shortage of medical supplies.

    Drawing from an initiative developed in Italy, the Erasmus Hospital in Brussels used scuba masks from sports retailer Decathlon to develop 3-D-printed masks into artificial respirators for patients in sub-intensive therapy.

    “Since the beginning of the epidemic, our teams have had to ceaselessly adapt and explore new possibilities for our patients. This time, inspiration came from snorkelling and the experience of Italian doctors,” the hospital wrote on social media. Read more.

    3. Why Brussels smells like cow manure

    A tip-line for RTL television has been inundated with reports from citizens from Molenbeek, Anderlecht and as far afield as Schaerbeek, complaining about the odd smell in the city.

    “That smells hyper-strong,” said one. “I noticed it yesterday when I went to do my shopping,” said another. A third came straight to the point: “That smells like cow excrement. You’d think you were on a farm.”

    The truth, according to the agricultural union Fugea, is that Brussels has not gone to the farm; the farm has come to Brussels. Read more.

    4. Belgian astronaut offers tips on how to cope in lockdown

    If there’s one person who knows about being shut up in a confined space with barely any human contact for a long period, it’s Frank De Winne.

    Brigadier General Frank, Viscount De Winne (to give him his full title) was Belgium’s second person in space, after Dirk Frimout, and spent six months on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2009, commanding the second part of the mission. Prior to that, like any astronaut, he spent two weeks in full quarantine, to ensure he wasn’t going to transport any human diseases into space. Read more.

    5. Belgium looks to increase tests to 10,000 per day

    Belgium is aiming to significantly boost its capacity to test patients for coronavirus to 10,000 per day, up from the current 2,000.

    Currently, the official guidelines on testing dictate that only medical staff and hospitalised patients with apparent symptoms should be tested. Read more.

    6. Coronavirus measures: will April be a write-off?

    As we enter into April, how much will the extension of the current lockdown measures impact business and society in Belgium? To make things a little easier, here’s a recap of reactions and news following the extension on Friday. Read more.

    7. Social distancing: 1.5m may not be enough

    Among the rules imposed on the population to help control the spread of the coronavirus is the rule of social distancing – maintaining a distance of at least 1.5m from the person closest to you.

    The idea is that that distance makes it much less likely that you will be affected by droplets produced by the other person in the form of coughs or sneezes – although you can still pick up secretions from their contact with surfaces, handrails, door handles and so on.

    But according to a new study by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), 1.5m – or the six feet (1.83m) recommended in the UK and US – may in some cases be far from enough to protect against secretions. Read more.

    Jules Johnston
    The Brussels Times