Belgian mayors race to quell coronavirus clusters after Portugal youth trip
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Belgian mayors race to quell coronavirus clusters after Portugal youth trip

Credit: Summer Bash - Jongerenreizen/Facebook

Belgian authorities in the coast are scrambling to contain the emergence of coronavirus hotspots following the detection of dozens of imported cases from a group of young holidaymakers back from Portugal.

At least 77 confirmed coronavirus cases have been imported into Belgium as Flemish youth return from group holidays organised by travel agency Summer Bash in the resort city of Albufeira, in the southern region of Algarve.

Following reports of the outbreak among the group on Wednesday, a Portuguese health official hit out at the agency for failing to keep the travel group in check with regulations and said it was unclear where the source of the infection came from.

“There is no guarantee that it was from a resident in Portugal,” Graça Freitas, head of Portugal’s Directorate-General of Health, said on Wednesday afternoon, Portuguese media reports.

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“We know that the organisers of these trips have already admitted that these young people not always complied with safety rules.”

The organisation has since issued an apology on social media, in which it said that the coronavirus pandemic “caught up with us.”

Jordy S’Jongers, trip coordinator at Summer Bash confirmed to The Brussels Times that the agency did not require participants to the trip to Albufeira to get a negative coronavirus test before departure, because health regulations in Portugal did not require it.

“We would have imagined the end of our summer differently,” the agency wrote on Facebook. “As an organization, we take responsibility and are very aware of the disastrous consequences our numbers have for many young people, their parents, relatives, friends…”

Freitas said that the source of the current outbreak remained unclear and said it was possible that one of the young Belgians “from that large group that stayed Albufeira” was already infected with the virus.

‘Too late’ for some Flemish municipalities

Initial reports on Wednesday confirmed that 67 youths that participated in the holiday trip had tested positive for the virus upon return, a figure which swelled to 77 on Thursday.

Flemish authorities have expressed concern over the imported cases and have also reported that the youngsters have already begun spreading it among local populations.

In an update posted on social media on Wednesday, the travel agency said that a majority of the cases (31) originating from their Summer Bash trip were imported into the province of West Flanders followed by the Flemish Periphery of Brussels (8).

The organisation also listed over a dozen municipalities were cases had also been reported including in the provinces of Antwerp and in the Walloon province of Hainaut.

The governor of West Flanders said the emergence of clusters were the result of “reckless behaviour” and urged young people in the area to limit contact with their parents and grandparents after at least one of the young holidaymakers was confirmed to have infected a parent, Het Niuewsblad reports.

In statements to the newspaper, S’Jongers, 29, confirmed that despite efforts by the agency, staff members “couldn’t possibly tie all of those youngsters up,” confirming that Summer Bash participants had contacted locals to attend gatherings and parties beyond the organisation’s radar.

Local authorities are worried that the return of the young holidaymakers could fuel a flare-up of the virus and the emergence of hotspots in their communities.

Kurt Vanryckeghem, the mayor of Waregem in West Flanders, has expressed concerns over the impact the imported cases could have on nursing homes, saying it may be “too late” for the municipality.

“It’s too late and together with all those young people we will have to collectively go through this,” he said.

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times