If infections slow down now, Belgium could remain below 650 ICU beds

If infections slow down now, Belgium could remain below 650 ICU beds
Virologist Steven Van Gucht. Credit: Belga

If the rise in the infection figures can be slowed down with the right measures today, the peak of the number of occupied beds in hospitals' intensive care units could be limited to 650, says virologist Steven Van Gucht.

While the alarm threshold was set at 500 Covid-19 patients in intensive care, the fourth wave could be less heavy than the third wave (which peaked at 947 occupied ICU beds in April 2021), he told Het Laatste Nieuws on Wednesday morning.

"In terms of infections, we are already at the level of the third wave," said Van Gucht. "We really need to slow down the infections to avoid having more than 1,000 Covid patients in intensive care."

If we do not succeed in slowing down the number of infections, he said Belgium will evolve towards 800 admissions to ICU "and more."

Currently, Flanders is hit a lot harder than the Brussels-Capital Region and Wallonia, as the Region is now at the level of the third wave, according to Van Gucht.

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The measures taken by the Consultative Committee at the end of October, such as the reintroduction of the face mask obligation in shops and the recommendation to telework, did not work. "More important than the number of new infections is the fact that the curve keeps rising."

How heavy the new wave will be, however, "depends on what will happen in the coming weeks," he said, stressing the importance of following the measures.

If the measures are not followed, the rise will go faster and the threshold of 1,000 occupied ICU beds will be in sight, Van Gucht predicted. "It is not very likely, although we cannot rule it out".

In case that happens, Belgium will see a wave that is comparable to the first (which peaked at 1,286 occupied ICU beds in April 2020) or the second (1,470 occupied ICU beds in November 2020) ones in terms of hospital occupancy, according to him.

No emergency stop

In terms of mortality, however, it would not be as bad: in all countries with high vaccination coverage, the number of deaths now is systematically lower than before, Van Gucht pointed out.

He does not want an "emergency stop," because then Belgium would end up in a yo-yo situation again, and argued for a "more sustainable system."

"A package of measures that you can apply in all sectors of society, including our private lives," Van Gucht said. "After that, we can switch to something more bearable, but we should not relax everything right away."

He continues to stress the importance of face masks as a "cheap and effective instrument" to use as a standard rule in indoor spaces where more people are present.

"Exceptionally, we can drop that if keeping our distance is possible, there is good ventilation and there are fewer people present, for example."

The Consultative Committee will start meeting at 2:30 PM today, and will hold a press conference to announce its decisions, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Alexander De Croo confirmed to The Brussels Times.

An overview of all the measures that are expected to be discussed can be found here.

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