'Sorry, we cannot cope': Belgian hospital chief rebukes calls for Christmas relaxations

'Sorry, we cannot cope': Belgian hospital chief rebukes calls for Christmas relaxations
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A Belgian hospital chief strongly rebuked a party chief's calls for coronavirus rules to be relaxed for Christmas, saying hospitals could not weather a third wave of the pandemic.

"Sorry, we cannot cope with a third wave," Elisabeth De Waele, the head of the intensive care unit (ICU) of the UZ Brussel university hospital said in a TV interview on Thursday.

"For us, the light at the end of the tunnel is just another train. It's coming again — a third wave? No, that is no longer possible," she stressed.

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De Waele was reacting to statements by Georges-Louis Bouchez, the head of the ruling Francophone liberals (MR), who the day before had said Christmas should not be celebrated "via Skype" and that gatherings of up to four people could still be possible.

"We will have a Christmas rush in the ICU in that case, we won't be able to do it. Sorry, we can no longer do that," she said.

De Waele, who was quick to warn that hospital capacity risked collapsing amid the second wave, also said that hospitals would not be out of the woods after the second wave of the pandemic receded.

"We know that, after a Covid (sic) wave, there will come a non-Covid wave — people whose operations and consultations have been postponed. People who sometimes seek and need help too late," she said.

Her statements come as Belgian leaders are set to gather on Friday to review the current coronavirus measures, with some ministers saying that the upcoming holiday period will be taken into account.

But the doctor warned against hastily relaxing the restrictions, which currently allow each person to have only one close contact outside their own household.

"People in healthcare do what they can," she said, adding: "How often can you ask: Can you still come and help? I don't know how much longer we'll be willing to keep up that tour de force."

As he confirmed that the government was exploring scenarios for the holidays, virologist and government advisor Marc Van Ranst noted that Christmas would hardly be the only holiday impacted by the global epidemic.

"Other religions have not been able to celebrate as usual, only with family," he said, adding that, even as admissions were slowing down, hospitals were still in the thick of it.

"There are still 1,450 people in intensive care," he said. "Yesterday, we saw another record of the number of people needing ventilation. There is no decline in the ICU yet, so I understand that they are sounding the alarm."

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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