The university of Antwerp has asked its students to ignore the relaxation of the coronavirus rules announced yesterday by the National Security Council (NSC), and to continue as before to help stop the spread of the virus.
The plea comes in an open letter authored by rector Herman Van Goethem and co-signed by the dean of the medical faculty Guy Hubens and scientists Herman Goossens, Erika Vlieghe and Pierre Van Damme.
Among its decisions taken yesterday, the NSC dropped the ‘bubble of five’ which limited a person’s close contacts to five people, replacing it with a reference number which might vary according to the epidemiological situation.
Close contact, as defined by prime minister Sophie Wilmès, means “being physically close to someone who does not live under the same roof, for more than 15 minutes, without keeping a distance and without a face mask.”
The change also applies to individuals rather than households, as before. In theory at least, a student house with six occupants could then have a total of 30 different contacts passing through, instead of the previous limit of five.
“The Security Council has opted for new rules which, as far as students are concerned, come down to this: on the one hand there is your home environment, where you obviously do not keep your distance and do not wear a mask; from now on you may also, for example at the university, form a group of a maximum of five, each time for one month – fellow students with whom you can be without a mask and without remaining 1.5m away,” the letter explains.
“Our advice is not to take up the Security Council’s offer now to establish such close contacts with each other in this way. If you do, really limit those contacts as much as possible.” writes Prof. Van Goethem.
The authorities at the university of Hasselt, meanwhile, have taken a similar step.
“We have consulted with our experts, Niel Hens and Geert Molenberghs, and we are nevertheless very concerned about the relaxation,” said rector Luc De Schepper.
“That is why we have sent an email to our students to comply with the old rules and not to apply the relaxation. We know that the virus is spreading very quickly in that group.”
The university is asking more from the students than they are legally obliged to give, he admitted.
“But we want to safeguard our education and our hospitals,” he told the VRT.