Creating a vaccine is complex because of the virus' high mutation capacity. Credit: NIAID/Flickr.
The risk that a patient infected with the deadly coronavirus will appear in Belgium is very low, a representative from the Flemish Agency for Care and Health confirmed.
“As a government, we are of course vigilant- we follow the news closely and we also receive updates from the World Health Organization, “Joris Moonens of the Flemish Agency for Care and Health told VRT.
“We also hold regular risk assessments. But for right now we estimate that risk of a patient in Belgium [being infected] is quite low to very low. There is certainly no reason for concern,” Moonens added.
The new coronavirus first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei at the end of December 2019. Since then, nine people infected with the virus have died in China and a further 440 people have been infected, with identified cases of the SARS-like virus also detected in South Korea, Japan and Thailand and one case in the United States.
The virus is expected to spread further following the holiday period around Chinese New Year on January 25, which will see millions of Chinese people travelling within and outside of China’s borders.
It is possible that it will spread to Europe after the Chinese New Year, professor Herman Goossens from the University of Antwerp and the coordinator of the Platform for European Preparedness Against (Re-) emerging Epidemics (PREPARE), confirmed in a statement.
However, “with the support of funding provided by the European Union, Europe is now much better prepared to speed up the processes of clinical research to the extent that findings are generated in real-time to inform practice when it is most useful, in the midst of an outbreak, rather than once the threat has passed,” Goosens explained.
Measures taken by PREPARE “are proportionate to the current relatively low risk for European citizens,” the statement adds.
Nevertheless, a risk assessment group- a team of Belgian experts led by the Belgian Institute for Health Sciences- will send additional information to hospitals and doctors across Belgium this week so that medical workers know how to identify and deal with the virus in the case that it is identified.
It has already been decided that Saint-Pierre University Hospital in Brussels will be the treatment centre in the case that the virus spreads to Belgium, Nieuwsblad explains.
Earlier this week, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called for an emergency meeting to be held on Wednesday to discuss whether or not the outbreak of the novel coronavirus should be declared a “public health emergency of international concern”- the term used to describe both Ebola and Zika viruses.
Temperature screening checks are currently taking place in airports in China, Japan, the U.S., South Korea, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Australia and Italy. No screening tests are taking place in Belgian airports.