'No use' closing Belgium's borders as coronavirus spreads in Italy, health minister says

'No use' closing Belgium's borders as coronavirus spreads in Italy, health minister says
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Closing Belgium's borders to prevent an outbreak of the new coronavirus as Italy grapples with the largest concentration of confirmed cases outside Asia would not be useful, Belgium's health minister said.

"It would be useless, a virus does not respect borders," Health Minister Maggie De Block said in a televised interview, adding that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had not issued recommendations to shut down country borders.

"We have been preparing for weeks and weeks, we are ready and we have only had one confirmed case in Belgium so far," De Block said, referring to a Flemish man who tested positive for the new coronavirus, Covid-19, upon his return from the Chinese epicentre.

"He has since been discharged from the hospital and is in Italy at the moment," De Block added.

The health minister also shot down the possibility of implementing prevention or restriction measures at Belgian airports, noting that the Belgian patient had tested positive for the virus despite the fact that he presented no symptoms.

De Block's statements come as Europe's largest outbreak escalates in Italy, where the number of confirmed cases surged from three to over 200 over a single weekend.

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De Block said Belgians travelling to Italy should heed the advice of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, which urged caution to travellers as the outbreak in Italy picked up speed on Monday.

The death toll from the Italian outbreak, with an epicentre in the northern region of Lombardy, rapidly accelerated on Monday, when three consecutive deaths of Covid-19 patients were confirmed by authorities in a single afternoon.

De Block said that the fatality rate of the new coronavirus was similar to that of the flu, around 3%, but that virus behind the latest coronavirus epidemic was more contagious.

"There is a real chance that the virus can reach Belgium, a virus travels around the world, no matter if it's in the country next door or far away," De Block said. "And Italy is on our doorstep, of course."

A total of 150 people have already been tested in Belgium, with only one among them testing positive.

De Block said that hospitals in Belgium are prepared to handle any potential future cases.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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