Belgian hospitals skip to last phase of Covid-19 plan as ICUs fill up

Belgian hospitals skip to last phase of Covid-19 plan as ICUs fill up
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Belgian hospitals are moving into the final phase of a nationwide coronavirus hospital response plan, skipping over one phase as growing wave of hospitalisations risk surpassing the government's plans for worst-case scenarios.

In a last-minute change on Thursday, Belgium's Hospital & Transport Surge Capacity body ordered hospitals to skip over Phase 2A and move straight into Phase 2B by Monday 2 November.

Phase 2B will require hospitals to create 500 new intensive care beds and 300 beds for intensive oxygen therapy and to cancel more non-urgent procedures and consultations.

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"It is pitiful to see history repeating itself," Marc Noppen, CEO of UZ Brussel university hospital, said in a press release, adding: "but the influx of Covid-19 patients leaves us with no choice."

The announcement comes barely a week after the body ordered hospitals to scale up to Phase 2A by the same Monday, requiring them to reserve 60% of their intensive care unit (ICU) beds to Covid-19 patients, up from the 50% needed in Phase 1B.

The sudden hike-up into the last tier of the national Covid-19 hospital management plan underscores growing concerns over the capacities of the health care system to keep pace with spiraling infections and hospitalisations.

The shift also follows several warnings from Belgian epidemiologists and top health officials that, at the current rate, hospital's intensive care capacity could be reached in days and the country's health care network could crack.

With nearly 6,000 coronavirus patients in the hospital, Belgium on Thursday broke past the first wave's hospitalisation peak back in April.

Following the announcement, UZ Brussel, said that to meet the capacity requirements, they would begin progressively phasing out all "non-urgent or indispensable procedures, as Phase 2B requires."

UZ Brussel spokesperson Karolien De Prez confirmed to The Brussels Times that the hospital endorsed the decision to skip one phase but said that the hospital had begun preparing to go beyond the last tier of the federal government's plan and go into the as of yet non-existent "Phases 3A and 3B."

"The federal government's plan does not include Phases 3A and 3B, it stops at Phase 2B," Noppen said, adding: "Scaling up to 2B is not enough."

"At this point, we do not know what the federal government's plans are beyond the Phase 2B, even as all indicators send the same clear message: that hospital ICUs will reach their maximum capacity around 10 November."

Press officers for the Federal Public Health Service (FPS Health) did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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