As coronavirus figures continue to rise, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has suggested that people return to wearing masks when indoors with large groups. The comments are in line with recommendations from experts responding to the increasing cases.
"We see that infection rates are going up and hospital admissions are also going up," De Croo told VTM Nieuws. "One big difference compared to the same period last year is the vaccination. The vaccination ensures that people are a lot less sick."
"The first priority must be to vaccinate those who have not been vaccinated as soon as possible. We are really monitoring the situation in detail to see if we need to intervene at a certain point," De Croo added.
According to the most recent figures from the Sciensano public health institute, an average of 3,249 people per day were infected with Covid-19 in Belgium between 11 and 17 October. This is an increase of 53% on the previous week.
While De Croo was unwilling to speculate on future restrictions, he did comment on wearing masks – even if his suggestion goes beyond the actual regulations.
"There are already rules on face masks. Of course, everyone has the freedom to choose to be more cautious than the rules currently stipulate," he explained. "If you are with many people together in an indoor space, then it is safer to put on a mask."
What The Experts Have Been Saying
The need to take measures to address the rising cases has also been expressed by virologist Steven Van Gucht, who told VTM news on Thursday that he believed similar figures would have lead to a lockdown last year. However, thanks to the vaccination campaign, he says this won't be the case, Belga News Agency reports.
"We knew that an increase in figures was coming and wearing the face mask for a while longer would have helped. However, this requirement was largely dropped so there are more contacts and that has an impact on infections and hospital admissions."
Consequently, Van Gucht now advises that people wear masks once again. "It allows you to do a lot of things but still be safe," he says. "We are removing some of the risk, and that can help us at the moment."
On Wednesday, Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke warned that Belgium must be prepared for a fourth wave and called for a wider use of masks, Belga News Agency reports.
On Thursday, virologist Marc Van Ranst agreed.
"We could work like in Sweden, where people are asked to use the mask when they feel it is necessary," suggested Van Ranst. "The question is, of course, how much more the population will accept. When relaxations are announced it is always mentioned that restrictions can be re-imposed" depending on the epidemiological situation.
Van Ranst also supports the idea of teleworking as much as possible, as is recommended by Vandenbroucke. "It is a relatively simple measure to implement and doesn't have a huge impact on our lives," he said.