No new coronavirus measures this week despite rising figures

No new coronavirus measures this week despite rising figures
Credit: Belga

Despite several experts expressing their concerns about the rapid increase in new coronavirus cases in the country, Belgium’s National Security Council will not gather earlier than planned to adjust the current measures.

The next National Security Council remains on the agenda for the week of 21 September, as initially announced by Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès, and will not be held earlier, according to reports.

In the run-up to the meeting, the evaluation cell Celeval, which assists the government in deciding the measures to be taken to fight the virus, was asked to investigate ways in which people could sustainably maintain their social contacts while staying safe. “We have to give people perspective,” Wilmès said at the time.

That advice, however, has not yet reached the ministers at the moment, meaning that the initial timing of the next Security Council will be maintained for now.

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However, the most important thing right now is to reduce the rising number of new infections per day, according to infectious disease expert Erika Vlieghe, who said that this is definitely not the right time to start relaxing rules on social contact or face masks.

“What is urgent now is for the government to recognise that the figures are rising, to communicate that clearly, and for everyone to take that seriously,” Vlieghe said on Radio 1 on Monday. “We can take stock of the fact that some things – the face masks at school, for example – are annoying, but necessary and temporary.”

“If you start to notice, in the number of hospital admissions and in the number of deaths, that the infection is spreading, it is already far too late,” she said. “If we keep looking away now, we will be back to where we were at the beginning of March.”

On Sunday evening, virologist and interfederal Covid-19 spokesperson Yves Van Laethem said that Belgium was “at the threshold of the second mini-wave of the summer,” but that it could still be contained if authorities will take appropriate measures.

His statements followed a week which saw the average number of new coronavirus cases per day climb steadily, with a peak of 940 cases on Thursday. According to Sciensano’s dashboard, it has been since April that the number of new cases per day was that high.

Additionally, virologist Marc Van Ranst predicted that Belgium would soon be registering averages of roughly 1,000 new cases per day, which is not unlikely, according to Van Laethem.

Van Laethem’s Dutch-speaking counterpart, Steven Van Gucht, also stated that the increase in figures was “not a good sign” as they “should have stabilised.”

“This is not yet the time to soften the measures, some of which – like wearing masks and social distancing – should be reformulated,” Van Gucht said.

The face mask obligation, in particular, has been named as a measure to be amended by several experts, who feel that the seeming randomness of the obligation is some municipalities makes the public less likely to respect it.

Before the previous National Security Council meeting, several experts recommended to “harmonise” the measure, to make sure that the rules were the same across the entire country and did not differ from municipality to municipality.

Against expectations, however, no new face mask related measures were announced then, with Wilmès saying that it was “very difficult” to decide, at a national level, in which streets a mask had to be worn.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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