Experts want Belgium to return to 'code orange', but politicians disagree

Experts want Belgium to return to 'code orange', but politicians disagree
Credit: Belga

As Covid-19 hospitalisations have increased over the past month, the GEMS experts are suggesting Belgium return to 'code orange' on its coronavirus barometer, but the authorities are not in favour of that scenario.

A month ago, Belgium lifted nearly all Covid-19 restrictions as the country switched to 'code yellow' on its coronavirus barometer. Since then, however, the pressure in hospitals has been increasing steadily.

In a report submitted to the Corona Commission last week, the experts of the GEMS advisory group argued that returning to 'code orange' on the barometer should be considered in this stage of the pandemic, according to reports by De Morgen.

"When the situation is like this or getting worse, you have to be consistent, of course," GEMS chair and infectious disease expert Erika Vlieghe told the newspaper. Two weeks ago, she also said that "it would have been better if we had stayed in orange a little longer."

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In practice, returning to 'code orange' would mean that people would be required to once again show a valid Covid Safe Ticket (CST) to gain access to bars, restaurants, cinemas and gyms, and the number of attendees allowed at events would also be limited again.

The face mask obligation, too, would again be extended beyond public transport to most indoor public places.

Currently, the barometer is painting an image of Belgium's Covid situation that falls between two stools: while the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care (185) is squarely in 'code yellow,' the number of daily hospitalisations (215) even puts the country much above the threshold of 150 which is earmarked for 'code red.'

Still, virologist and GEMS member Marc Van Ranst pointed out that the number of new infections is starting to decline again (-8% compared to a week earlier) – meaning hospitalisation figures are expected to start dropping similarly in about two weeks.

"If this were a period with only Covid-19 and no flu, there would be no overload in the hospitals, but this is still moderate influenza, and even Covid-19 can be much worse than it is now," he told De Morgen. "Should we have to deal with heavy variants every time, it can become very difficult."

Political refusal

Among politicians, however, there is reportedly very little support to move the country back into 'code orange,' with the Flemish government saying that "we should stay aware of the virus," the current situation is "not comparable" to what the country went through during the peaks of the last two years.

Last weekend, Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke also said returning to 'code orange' was not on the table for the time being, as the epidemic was not evolving explosively.

Even Corona Commissioner Pedro Facon does not see the need to switch the barometer back up. "From the Commission, we are not convinced that we should do that. The situation for us is clearly yellow."

For both Facon and the GEMS expert group, their Covid-related tasks will end at the end of this week (Friday 8 April), as the coronavirus management will pass to the Federal Public Health Service and the Crisis Centre.

The next Consultative Committee meeting to analyse the situation in the country is planned to take place after the Easter holidays, on Friday 22 April.

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