'Virus can always mutate': Belgian experts discuss new Covid-19 variants next week

'Virus can always mutate': Belgian experts discuss new Covid-19 variants next week
Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke. Credit: Belga

The Risk Management Group (RMG) – Belgium's group of health experts advising on protective measures against Covid-19 – will meet next week in response to the massive new wave of infections in China, announced Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke.

From Sunday 8 January, Chinese residents will again be allowed to travel abroad without restriction, despite the fact that China is currently facing a huge wave of Covid-19 infections; the decision is causing unrest in parts of the rest of the world.

"As Europeans, we are very well protected but we remain vigilant," Vandenbroucke said on Flemish radio on Friday. "In Belgium, additional measures are not needed for the time being. We have a very high level of protection against Omicron (the variant now raging in China) due to the massive vaccination campaigns. Additionally, a lot of people here already went through an infection. For now, that will be enough."

In China, there is little resistance against the now-raging Omicron variant, partly because of low vaccination figures and vaccines of inferior quality, stressed experts, adding that this is not an issue here.

'Be prepared'

On Thursday, the health authorities of the 27 EU Member States met to discuss a joint approach, but the consultations did not yet lead to concrete measures. Several countries such as Japan, South Korea, the United States and Italy already decided to make proof of a negative Covid-19 test mandatory for Chinese tourists.

While Belgium will not be taking similar measures (yet), Vandenbroucke will still take steps to "be prepared" as a virus can always mutate. "That is why I have asked the health experts from the RMG to meet on Monday and examine whether it is realistic and useful to strengthen follow-up on variants."

In that case, Belgium could decide on its own to test sick travellers after arrival, but "the question is whether that is realistic, useful and necessary," Vandenbroucke repeatedly stressed, adding that such measures should in any case better be taken at the European level.

The most important question, he stressed, is how the Belgian population will behave in the coming days and weeks. "There is a lot of flu going around, a lot of RSV, a lot of Covid, and it is a festive period. How are we going to behave to avoid those circulating even more?"

As over the past two years, he reiterated that the best thing the population can do is respect the basic Covid-19 measures: wash your hands, ventilate your house, do not go to end-of-year parties if you are sick and wear a face mask if necessary.

Additionally, Vandenbroucke urged people aged over 50 who have not yet had a (second) booster shot to go to a pharmacy or GP as soon as possible to get one.

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