Even though the rise in coronavirus infections in Belgium is slowing down a little, it will be a “difficult task” to get the curves down by Christmas, says virologist Steven Van Gucht.
Until a few days ago, the Sciensano national health institute recorded increases of 20% to 30%, and while it still concerns a rise, it has now dropped to 15%, Van Gucht told Het Laatste Nieuws on Tuesday.
“The rate is not so high anymore, especially in adults, but it is still an increase,” he said. “Suppose we were to see a peak this week, then the main thing is to get the curves down again by Christmas and New Year. That will still be a difficult task.”
Van Gucht referred to the UK, which has been stuck at a high plateau for quite some time – something which Belgium would do well to avoid.
The slight slowdown in the figures likely has to do with “the behavioural changes of many people, and the first set of measures,” which made the population turn to teleworking and wearing a face mask again.
“From the last set of measures, we are still not seeing any effect. So that will still have to be added to this,” he said. “I do hope that the slowdown can continue, but that is not 100% certain.”
Van Gucht also added that Belgium could reach an occupancy rate of 800 beds in intensive care by the end of this week. “That load on intensive care is leaden.”
On top of that, there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the new Omicron variant, as not enough data from South Africa is available to determine whether it is that much more infectious.
Cause for caution
“But it is a completely new variant, with new mutations that we do not yet know very well. That is reason enough to be cautious,” Van Gucht said, adding that some 50 cases have now been registered in Europe.
In Belgium, still only one case has been identified for the time being, he confirmed, adding that he suspects the Omicron variant “is capable of infecting people a second time.”
“In South Africa, the Delta variant has largely disappeared. We see more Omicron, especially in the young people there, mainly in the university population,” Van Gucht said, explaining that this could also indicate that it concerns re-infections. “That would also explain the mainly mild symptoms.”
In any case, for the Omicron variant, the same approach applies as for the other variants: vaccinations, booster shots for those who are eligible, face masks, social distance and ventilation.
“The third dose is important because it increases the number of antibodies and because those antibodies also start to work more broadly,” Van Gucht concluded.