Belgium is likely to introduce a "lockdown light" in the fight against the fourth wave of coronavirus infections soon, according to virologist Marc Van Ranst.
On Wednesday, all 10 provincial governors asked the Consultative Committee to meet earlier than planned to take stricter measures, as they believe the current ones will not stop the rapid rise of infections, and Van Ranst agrees, he said on VTM News on Wednesday evening.
A strict lockdown – like the first one announced in March 2020 – to stop the virus from spreading, however, will not be happening again, he predicted.
"We might get a lockdown light, with an early closure of the hospitality industry for example. That could be on the table at the next Consultative Committee," Van Ranst said, adding that it has to happen "preferably soon, perhaps next week."
"Every day counts, and if you look at the 24 previous Consultative Committees, there has never been a full month in between," he stressed, adding that measures should not be taken out of panic, but in a well-considered way.
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"The Delta variant is incredibly infectious, and in Flanders, it is very bad. I have no direct explanation for that," Van Ranst said. "Wallonia and the Brussels-Capital Region have relaxed their measures more gradually than Flanders, and that may be part of the explanation."
During a press conference on Wednesday, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that evidence suggests that the coronavirus vaccines - which reduced transmission of the initial strain of the virus by about 60% - only reduce transmission of the Delta variant by roughly 40%.
In the last few days, several ministers already stated that the Consultative Committee could be organised very quickly if necessary, and Interior Affairs Minister Annelies Verlinden said that she does not rule out a meeting could be happening before the week is over.
"If it is necessary to act, we must do so," she said on Flemish radio on Thursday morning. "We have always said that we can move quickly when we need to, and if the numbers are now presenting themselves in such a way that action is needed, we must also make decisions."
No more ambiguity
Specifically, Verlinden referred to sectors where many people come together and cannot keep a distance, such as nightlife and mass events.
"There are sectors, I mention the nightclubs and discos, that are now facing difficult measures," she said. "We are not helping them by leaving them in ambiguity for too long. As far as I am concerned, those are things that need to be discussed."
On Thursday, the Federal Government will be discussing whether or not to call a possible early Consultative Committee, according to Verlinden.
"I can assure you that, together with the Prime Minister, we are looking at when we should convene again, and I think it will be much earlier than what we had initially foreseen," she said, referring to the planned meeting after the holidays, in early January.
Whether an early meeting will affect the end-of-year celebrations in Belgium this year, however, is not certain, says Van Ranst.
"Those celebrations are still a month away," he said, even though he also added that the festivities will probably not be "completely normal like in 2019 yet. But whether it will be as drastic as in 2020? I do not think so either."