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Belgium can be ‘cautiously hopeful,’ says Van Gucht

Credit: Belga

The slow decline of Belgium’s coronavirus figures is a reason to be ‘cautiously optimistic’ that a loosening of restrictions could be in sight for the country, according to virologist Steven Van Gucht

If this continues, Van Gucht is hopeful Belgium will reach the goal of 75 hospital admissions by mid-March, he said in an interview with De Standaard. This is one of the requirements after which, if fulfilled, there could be relaxations.

He highlighted that the spring break – which was preceded by a cooling-off week for secondary schools – and people not going to work could further push the figures in the right direction.

He also pointed at the stricter travel regulations, saying: “We don’t have to worry so much about returning travellers after the spring break, as opposed to after the Christmas break.”

However, he emphasised that we must remain careful with such predictions, especially as the British corona variant, which has been proven to be more contagious and more deadly, is expected to become the dominant strain in Belgium.

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‘One or the other, not both at once’

Any loosening of restrictions will only be done in a gradual and careful way, despite improving figures, said Van Gucht.

“It will be a choice between one or the other, but not both at the same time. The vaccination campaign may be running, but a significant proportion of the risk groups will still not have been vaccinated by mid-March.”

When asked whether this process will be sped up after all risk groups have been vaccinated, Van Gucht said it may be possible to speed things up a little, but, even then, “we will have to keep the virus circulation among the population somewhat under control.”

“Just because you’re not in the risk groups, doesn’t mean you can’t get seriously ill. Relatively healthy people in their twenties and thirties also end up in the intensive care unit, and some of them even have to be ventilated,” emphasised Van Gucht.

Van Gucht said he would be surprised if Belgium is hit by a third wave with the current evolution of the figures, which has become an example to other countries including the Netherlands and the UK.

“At the same time,” he added, “a lot depends on the will of the population to continue complying with the measures for a while.”

He explained that rules won’t be relaxed too quickly, as this may cause figures to go in the wrong direction, resulting in another scaling back, which he recognised would be a big blow to many people and might undermine support for the measures.

“And we really can’t risk that – with the finishing line in sight.”

Lauren Walker
The Brussels Times

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