Coronavirus Update: what's the latest in Belgium? 

Coronavirus Update: what's the latest in Belgium? 
The risk of infection is assessed based on several simple questions. Credit: Belga

As a coronavirus outbreak continues to grow, Belgium - as with the rest of the world - is facing uncertainly over the spread of the virus.

Since the outbreak was reported by China on 31 December, the number of infected people has seen significant growth, forcing countries to ensure they are prepared for any cases.

With that in mind, and the increased information around the topic, here's the latest news on the virus in Belgium:

Authorities are taking note

The Belgian public health authorities have taken every possible precautionary measure to deal with the threat posed by the outbreak, while there remains “a real chance” the infections could turn up in Belgium.

“France now has three cases, and we know of one suspected case in Berlin that still hasn’t been confirmed, so why would it not be possible in Belgium,” Maggie De Block said, speaking on VTM News (video).

The three cases in France were confirmed at the weekend, and France immediately introduced medical checks at all airports for passengers travelling from China. In Belgium, one flight from Beijing arrived at Zaventem on Sunday, but passengers arriving were only observed.

“Our sanitary authorities are very vigilant, we have excellent laboratories and reference hospitals, protocols in suspicious cases, we have informed all doctors and hospitals of the steps to take – in other words we have taken all available precautionary measures,” she said.

The potential Belgian carrier was cleared

Belgian media reported over the weekend that a patient was admitted to Saint-Pierre hospital in central Brussels, showing symptoms of the Coronavirus. However, the health ministry confirmed the man does not have the virus.

The Department of Foreign Affairs knows of 15 Belgians who are currently in the affected province of Hubei. The country will evacuate those staying in the city of Wuhan and its surrounding areas, if they want to come back, according to Philippe Goffin, the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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The symptoms are described as shortness of breath, cough and fever – symptoms common to many different causes. The man suspected of being infected with the virus, however, had recently returned from China, thus adding to suspicion. But when blood samples were taken and tested at the university hospital in Leuven, it was found that the Coronavirus was not present.

What is being done about it

Researchers at the KU Leuven are developing a vaccine, as are others in the United States and Berlin.

“We are building on a kind of ‘passe-partout’ technology that we have developed,” said research leader and professor of virology Johan Neyts, reports De Standaard. The technology was initially intended to create a new vaccine against yellow fever, but can also be used against other pathogens.

The technology is modular: researchers can exchange the ‘yellow fever’ module for that of other viral diseases, hoping to prevent them as well. “In our lab, we have already succeeded with the viruses for rabies, ebola and zika,” said Neyts. Attempts to build in a coronavirus module are in full swing, and the test phase will likely begin in a few weeks’ time.

Some practical advice

Anyone showing symptoms is asked to seek medical attention. Different hospitals have been warned of the criteria to diagnose the virus, so Belgium is "ready" to welcome its first case. 

As was seen with the false alarm, if a patient is suspected of carrying the virus, respiratory samples will be taken and sent to the KULeuven hospital, the reference hospital for samples. And pending the results, the patient will be placed in isolation in the hospital where they presented.

How to protect yourself?

Ultimately, health and scientific authorities have continued to highlight the importance of measures that are effective for other viral diseases such as the flu: 

Wash your hands frequently,

Cough or sneeze in the crook of your elbow or in a handkerchief you can throw away,

Avoid touching your face (nose, hands, mouth) 

The Brussels Times

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