Coronavirus: Belgian hospitals brace for 'week of truth'

Coronavirus: Belgian hospitals brace for 'week of truth'
With experts saying that data suggests that the outbreak's curve is "bending," a Belgian doctor said that this week would be decisive for hospitals fighting to contain the coronavirus pandemic. © Belga

Belgian hospitals are bracing for a decisive moment in the evolution of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, with doctors on Monday saying this would be one of many "big weeks" ahead.

"I think this will be the week of truth (...). There will be other weeks of truth, but this one will be one of the bigger ones," Geert Meyfroidt, head of the Belgian Society of Intensive Care Medicine, said in a radio interview.

Meyfroidt said that experts were not yet able to accurately say when the outbreak would peak in Belgium, but that data showed that the curve of contagion was "bending."

"That gives hope, but it is not certain," Meyfroidt, an intensive care doctor in university hospital UZ Leuven, said, adding that the "most reliable models" were still predicting that the outbreak would peak in early April.

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Belgium surged to 11,899 on Monday, up from 7,284 on Friday. The number of new confirmed cases over the past week lingered around the 500-600 mark, jumping to over 1,000 daily new cases on both Thursday and Friday.

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Hospitalisations were also on the rise, with health officials reporting that more than 500 admissions in the past 24 hours had brought the total number of hospitalised patients to 4,524, 927 of currently in an intensive care unit (ICU).

"The number of people admitted into the ICU is still rising and it will continue to rise in the coming days," Emmanuel André, a spokesperson with the government's coronavirus advisory team, said in a daily press conference.

While, as of Monday, hospitals' ICU availability remained at 53% of total capacity, André said that some hospitals in the country were already overwhelmed and had already had to send patients to other hospitals.

"Limburg is already overloaded, they have already started forwarding patients to Diest, Tienen, and Leuven," Meyfroidt said, referring to the hardest-hit province in Flanders, but all the while adding that there was "still plenty of room" in hospitals throughout Belgium.

In a separate radio interview, the former federal health minister, Laurette Onkelinx, said that the Brugmann Hospital in Brussels was already running out of beds in its ICU, with 18 out of 21 currently taken by Covid-19 patients, 16 of whom were intubated.

More than half (696) of the patients currently hospitalised in an ICU require breathing assistance, André added, reporting that 40 more patients had been branched onto a ventilator since Sunday.

Echoing Meyfroidt, André said that data showed a "scale back" in the intensity of the outbreak, confirming that the peak had not yet been reached but that the numbers suggested Belgium was now at a point of inflexion.

"But this is a marathon, not a sprint, so we have to remain wary at all times," Meyfroidt, an intensive care doctor in university hospital UZ Leuven, added.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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