‘Not that simple’: De Croo government drops coronavirus barometer
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‘Not that simple’: De Croo government drops coronavirus barometer

Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke. © Belga

The much-awaited and postponed coronavirus barometer has been dropped by the federal government, Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said on Tuesday.

“That barometer was brought up at a time when we believed that we could relax in steps and, that if the crisis hit us again, we could tighten up in steps again. In the meantime, we have learned the lesson that, unfortunately, it is not that simple,” Vandenbroucke said.

Vandenbroucke’s statements put an end to the stop-and-go announcements surrounding the release of the barometer since it was first announced in September by Sophie Wilmès, who led the country through the first wave of the pandemic as caretaker prime minister.

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Wilmès announced the barometer as a tool to guide lower levels of government in the implementation of coronavirus measures by linking restrictions to the indicators such as the infection or hospitalisation rates.

While the new federal cabinet, led by Premier Alexander De Croo, initially said they would stick to plans to fine-tune and release the barometer, Vandenbroucke on Tuesday confirmed it would remain on the backburner.

The health minister said that incorrect interpretation and implementation of the barometer could provoke “yo-yo risks and take us into a third wave if we are careless.”

Instead, the Celeval advisory group of experts had instead been tasked with coming up with a plan to “drastically reduce the circulation of the virus” as well as to define a lockdown-exit threshold.

The Celeval will work together with the country’s coronavirus commissioner, Pedro Facon to define the exit threshold, on which there appears to be no consensus yet.

While biostatistician Geert Molenberghs, who is working with the government, suggested that that threshold mark could be a daily infection rate of no more than 50 cases, prominent virologist Marc Van Ranst said the limit may have to be much lower.

“A few months ago, we dropped to 85 infections per day during the summer, and then we still got the second flare-up,” he said, De Standaard reports. “The limit of 50 infections per day would also trigger alarm bells in many other countries.”

“We not only have to get our country out of the top coronavirus rankings, we must go much further than that,” he added.

The coronavirus commissioner also said that a series of containment tools and measures would also need to be fully functional before the government could think of relaxing the measures again. Chief among those are the tightening and uniformisation of the testing and tracing strategy throughout the country as well as better enforcement of mandatory quarantines.

“So let me be clear: as long as those preconditions are not in place everywhere, we cannot loosen the measures,” Facon said.

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times