‘We can be hopeful about the future,’ says Van Gucht

‘We can be hopeful about the future,’ says Van Gucht
Virologist Steven Van Gucht. Credit: Belga

As Belgium continues to fall below the predicted peak of 125,000 infections per day by mid-January “we can be hopeful about the future,” said virologist Steven Van Gucht on Monday.

After the first Consultative Committee of 2022, Van Gucht set a broad peak for Belgium of “between 30,000 and 125,000 registered infections per day” by mid-January.

“That peak should not be far away, although we have not reached it yet,” he said on Flemish radio on Monday. “A mountain of infections is currently sliding past, but we are only seeing a piece of it.”

Currently, Belgium is registering an average of about 27,000 infections per day, but in reality, the number will be much higher. “How much higher is difficult to say, but it is perfectly possible that we are talking about 100,000 infections. A first, provisional figure shows that on Monday we could exceed the mark of 50,000 infections in one day.”

However, there is no longer a need to fear an upcoming tidal wave of infections, according to Van Gucht. “‘We can be hopeful about the future. The infections are not rising as quickly as we feared.”

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This, said Van Gucht, has to do with the measures in place and with the caution of a lot of people. “A good thing, because it makes it easier for hospitals to keep up.”

Additionally, he is hopeful that the pressure on hospitals will remain low as well: “Despite the high number of infections, the number of severely ill patients is proportionally much lower. We are at 200 admissions a day, which puts us on the most optimistic side of the predicted scenarios.”

In addition to the measures, this is also due to the population’s immunity to the coronavirus, said Van Gucht. “According to a South African study, 75% of the milder course of the Omicron wave is due to our immunity – built up through vaccination and infections contracted – and 25% is due to the characteristics of the Omicron variant, which is seemingly less pathogenic.”

Avoiding a yo-yo situation

“Analysing purely what is happening now, the situation is quite hopeful,” he said. “We have a very heavy infection wave – and some people are still getting severely ill – but it is a very different story from one year ago. Back then, we should have had to declare a lockdown.”

Still, Van Gucht calls for small and sustained relaxations: “You want to avoid a yo-yo situation so you do not have to retrace your steps. That is best for everyone.”

The Consultative Committee will meet on Friday to discuss the “coronavirus barometer” and possible relaxations, as well as a medium-term strategy to manage the pandemic.

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