As the daily number of new coronavirus infections exceeds 3,000 for the first time since May, infectious disease expert Erika Vlieghe and biostatistician Geert Molenberghs warn that people should remain cautious when meeting others.
A very steep climb in infections like in the autumn of 2020 is not expected, but a number of people could still become infected in the coming weeks, with all the consequences that this entails, Vlieghe said on VRT programme ‘De Afspraak’ on Monday evening.
“The combination of a possible flu wave and a lower, flatter coronavirus wave should not necessarily lead to dramatic scenes, but can still be quite a burden on our health system,” she said.
“We know that these vaccines protect very well against getting seriously ill – not perfectly, but very well. But the disease could still be transmitted,” Vlieghe said.
“The more you let things circulate, the more it can seep through to people who are more vulnerable and for whom such a vaccine does not work perfectly,” she added.
Testing, contact tracing and isolating positive cases remain important, Vlieghe stressed. “It is not the intention to release our grip on the virus completely. Do what you want, but do it as safely as possible. Prefer meeting outside over inside, open windows and ventilate well.”
Molenberghs also highlighted the importance of ventilation to limit infection and an increase in hospitalisation figures.
While a rise in the number of confirmed cases was expected around this time, “it is going a bit faster than expected in the scenarios,” Molenberghs told Het Laatste Nieuws on Tuesday, adding that this could also have an impact on the number of hospitalisations.
“The time that it takes the figures to double is now estimated at fourteen days,” said Molenberghs, explaining that this would mean that 600 intensive care beds could be occupied by covid patients within a few weeks.
Add to that delayed care and a possible flu epidemic, and “it will be difficult,” said Molenberghs. “There is also some dropout among the care staff after two years of very hard work.”
The main reasons for the rapid increase are the relaxed coronavirus measures before and after the summer, as well as the most recent easing at the beginning of this month, he says.
“We have a lot more contacts now. At work, the number of clusters is starting to increase and also at primary schools. There is student life and nightlife where there are a lot of contacts again,” Molenberghs said. “There are a lot of parties.”
In addition to being careful when seeing others, he also cited the Covid Safe Ticket (CST) as a possible protection measure and emphasised the importance of face masks.
“Perhaps we have put the face mask aside a little too eagerly. It remains a simple measure in case of contact with others,” said Molenberghs.
“And popular or not, the CST is a way of making ourselves more secure. [Flanders is] a region without a CST, completely surrounded by places where it does apply,” he added. “That also attracts visitors from those areas, as we saw this weekend. Do we want that?”