Comparing Belgium’s current coronavirus figures to the rest of the crisis
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    Comparing Belgium’s current coronavirus figures to the rest of the crisis

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    As Belgium hits an average of over 100 new infections once again, and calls increase for a second – possibly localised – lockdown, experts are urging for a need to be aware of what current figures mean in terms of the wider context of the virus. 

    In a tweet on Friday morning, Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst pointed out that on Monday 13 July, 216 people tested positive, according to Sciensano’s data. “As a reminder: on 15 March, we had 214 new cases. 17 March was the start of the lockdown,” he added.

    So while during the peak of the crisis in April Belgium recorded over 2,000 new cases per day, let’s have a look at what was happening in the country when the numbers were at lower levels.

    Belgium goes into lockdown

    On 17 March, Belgium announced “far-reaching measures,” but stopped short of calling it an official lockdown. In practice, however, the country shut down, as shops closed, teleworking became the norm, the borders closed to non-essential travel, and people could only leave the house for physical activity with one other person.

    Per day, 185 coronavirus cases were being confirmed at that time. In total, the country reached 1,243 confirmed cases, which saw 361 people in hospital. 

    On the day Belgium’s lockdown was announced, a total of 10 people had died as a result of the virus in the country.

    Van Ranst, in his tweet, stressed that the only difference between March and now was that only roughly 1 in 10 cases were being detected. “At the moment this should be around 1 in 3. This gives us some (but not much) respite,” he said.

    Belgium extends lockdown measures

    On 27 March, 1,049 new people tested positive for the coronavirus, which brought the total to 7,284 confirmed cases in the country. Belgium’s National Security Council decided to extend its lockdown until mid-April.

    490 new people were admitted to hospital that day, bringing the total to 3,042 hospitalised patients. Additionally, 69 new deaths were recorded, which brought the country’s total to 289.

    On 15 April, lockdown measures were extended once again. Belgium was at the peak of the epidemic, and was regularly recording over 2,000 new cases per day. On that day, 2,454 new people tested positive, bringing the country’s total to 33,573.

    250 new patients were admitted to hospital as well, resulting in 5,524 hospital beds taken up by coronavirus patients across the country.

    283 people’s deaths were reported that day as well, which brought Belgium’s total death toll, since the beginning of the epidemic, to 4,440.

    Prime Minister Wilmès announced that summer festivals and other events where many people gathered were out of the question, until at least after the summer. However, garden centres and DIY shops were allowed to reopen again.

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    Belgium eases out of lockdown: Phase 1A

    On 4 May, Belgium entered the first phase of its exit plan. The number of new people who tested positive for the virus had fallen back to 361 that day, which brought the total to 50,267.

    A total of 3,044 patients were still admitted to hospital, of which 59 new ones on 4 May. The country still recorded 80 new deaths on that day, bringing the total to 7,924.

    Exit Phase 1B

    As of 11 May, the measures relaxed a little more, and stores were allowed to reopen, and people could receive up to 4 guests in their homes, creating the concept of “contact bubbles.”

    368 new people tested positive for the virus on that day, which was roughly the same number of when Exit Phase 1A went into force.

    Belgium reported 62 new deaths, and 60 new patients were admitted to hospital. While new patients were still being admitted, the total number of hospital beds occupied by coronavirus patients continued to decrease, as was at 2,222 on that day.

    Exit Phase 2

    On 18 May, Belgium recorded 279 new people who tested positive for the coronavirus. 

    43 new patients were still being admitted to the hospital then, bringing the total to 1,614. The number of deaths has increased to 9,080, of which 28 were reported that day.

    Schools were allowed to partially reopen, and people in so-called contact professions, such as hairdressers, could also resume their activities.

    Markets, zoos, and sports clubs could all receive people again, albeit not at full capacity.

    Exit Phase 3

    On 8 June, infection figures were still going down, and the number of new people who tested positive went down to 82. 

    New hospital admissions dropped to 21, and the total number of people admitted to hospital dropped to 733.

    A total of 9,606 deaths had occurred, 11 of which were reported on that day.

    As all trends were decreasing, the rules were reversed. Everything was allowed, except when it was explicitly banned. Cafes, bars and restaurants could start to reopen, and the “six golden rules” were created. Fitness centres, and religious services received people again.

    Exit Phase 4

    From 1 July, all businesses that still had to remain closed in Phase 3 were allowed to reopen, and a (limited) audience was allowed to go to events again.

    People’s contact bubbles were increased to 15 people per week, and shopping no longer had to be done alone.

    Daily figures were no longer reported, but the weekly trend showed that an average of 84 people tested positive for the virus per day, bringing the total to 61,509 confirmed cases.

    The trends for new hospital admissions and deaths continued to decline as well, with an average of 15 new hospital admissions and 5 deaths per day.

    Exit Phase 5?

    On Wednesday, Belgium’s National Security Council decided to postpone its decision on whether or not the country could enter Phase 5 as planned from 1 August.

    The number of cases has climbed back up to over 100 per day again, with 115 confirmed ones on 17 July, which was a rise of 32% compared to the week before. 

    Additionally, the trend of people admitted to hospital has stopped decreasing but has instead stabilised at 10 new patients per day. The number of deaths, however, is still decreasing, with an average of 1.7 occurring per day over the past week.

    Maïthé Chini
    The Brussels Times