Restricting social contacts to some extent will have to remain the norm until a vaccine against the new coronavirus becomes available, top health experts in Belgium said on Tuesday.
Virologist Marc Van Ranst, top health advisor to the government, said in an interview with De Morgen that residents in Belgium would have to adjust social contacts “for a long time to come.”
Social restrictions will continue to be the government’s number one tool to control the spread of the novel virus and prevent overwhelming their public health systems, he said.
Van Ranst said that a decision by the government to expand each resident’s social bubble to 15 different people each would not be possible again.
The expansion, announced by the National Security Council on 24 July as government officials touted a stabilisation of the number of infections, was reversed days later after, in a drastic walk back that came as new infections spiked in Antwerp.
Steven Van Gucht, spokesperson for federal health institute Sciensano, said that the retightening of social contact rules was paying off, flattening out a marked surge in the number of new infections that began flaring up at the beginning of August.
“We went too far with the bubble of 15 different contacts,” Van Gucht said, adding that the reintroduction of social restrictions was “the main reason why we can now halt the increase” in new infection figures.
As pharmaceutical companies across the world race to produce a safe and viable coronavirus vaccine, observers estimate that one may not become available until mid-2021 at the earliest.
In the meantime, Van Ranst said that governments must stick to imposing measures that are “useful and proportional,” adapting them as situations evolve in order to ensure populations stick to them sufficiently.
“If the curve falls again, we can loosen up a bit again,” he said, nevertheless warning that relaxing the rules too much, such as in late July, would not be possible.
“Because we have to keep the time span between two waves as long as possible.”