Belgian virologist Steven Van Gucht. Credit: Belga
As the number of coronavirus infections has risen again in recent weeks, virologist Steven Van Gucht is calling for caution at the start of a new school year.
The average number of coronavirus deaths has been slightly higher in recent days than in previous weeks in Belgium, according to the latest figures by the Sciensano health institute.
“Caution is still advised,” Van Gucht said. “We have seen an increase in infection rates in recent weeks, but this seems to be slowing down, perhaps even stabilising.”
“Most infections are still detected in young people, in children,” he said, adding that they account for about 20% of infections.
Van Gucht stated that he expects regular infections in schools when they reopen from tomorrow (Wednesday 1 September). However, class bubbles and adherence to the measures should prevent infections, he says.
Currently, one-third of all Covid-19 patients are in a hospital in Brussels, and about one in four ICU beds in Brussels is now occupied by Covid-19 patients, due to the region’s low vaccination rate.
Van Gucht expects a new wave of coronavirus cases in the autumn, during October and November, but its intensity will depend on the extent to which people stick to the measures. In terms of size, this wave will see figures between the second and third waves, he predicts.
Furthermore, it would likely hit Brussels and Wallonia harder than Flanders, owing to the differences in vaccination coverage.
“But for the sake of clarity: this is a possibility, a scenario. Additionally, the predicted number of hospital admissions can be halved if we adjust our behaviour sufficiently,” said Van Gucht.
“Adapted behaviour can ensure that we smooth out the waves and avoid high peaks, which is especially important for hospitals,” he added.
Organising activities outdoors and paying attention to indoor ventilation are recommendations that Van Gucht believes will still be important throughout autumn.
“Moreover, get tested before meeting others – especially if it will be indoors. Wear a face mask inside, even where it is no longer compulsory,” he said. “Take part in contact tracing and comply with quarantine.”
More than 75% of people admitted to hospital have not been vaccinated. People who are vaccinated and end up in hospital are, on average, 82 years old and mostly from nursing homes. “We are almost there,” said Van Gucht. “Let’s keep up the measures for a while longer.”