Belgium's coronavirus barometer will 'probably' be ready next Friday

Belgium's coronavirus barometer will 'probably' be ready next Friday
Credit: Belga/TBT

Despite promises that Belgium's long-awaited "coronavirus barometer" would be launched on Friday, ministers announced that it was not ready yet and that it would likely take another week.

The extra restrictions that were announced on Friday following the Consultative Committee meeting, would normally be linked to the launch of the coronavirus barometer, a tool that indicates what measures the population can expect depending on the epidemiological situation.

However, as several sector-specific protocols (such as for culture and sports) still have to be worked out and added to the barometer, and the Committee meeting took longer than expected, the launch was postponed.

The barometer already has a solid foundation, according to Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke, but is not quite ready yet. "Alarm levels are being used. The more infections and hospital admissions, the higher the alarm level," he said during the press conference. "We will probably have the adjustments in place by next Friday."

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"I think the government still wanted to double-check some things," Maarten Vansteenkiste, a motivational psychologist and member of the federal advisory body Celeval, told Het Nieuwsblad.

The thresholds that will be used to move from one level to the next have already been decided on, according to Het Nieuwsblad, which was able to see the progress of the barometer so far.

The number of new hospitalisations per week or the number of new infections per two weeks, and the test positivity ratio will be taken into account.

The national threshold to go to "phase 4" - which Belgium is in now, Prime Minister De Croo said during the press conference on Friday - is 230 new hospitalisations per day, and 3,286 confirmed new infections per day.

Belgium, which is admitted 240 new patients to its hospitals on Friday and is seeing a daily average of over 6,700 new infections, is well above that threshold.

The barometer also left space for "phase 5," which would be a "worst-case scenario." What that means in terms of thresholds, or which measures would be taken in that case, has not been decided yet.

When ready, the barometer will also work at a provincial level, meaning not the whole country has to be in Phase 4, if the worst of the infections are concentrated in one particular province.

Which measures will be taken in which phase is not entirely clear on the barometer yet, as the most important decisions will still have to be taken by politicians.

"The big advantage of the barometer is that you can motivate people to do well, so that you can go to a lower alert level," Vansteenkiste said. "But the chance that we would go to a lower level is very small now, because the figures are going to continue to rise over the next two weeks."

The barometer was first announced during the National Security Council on 23 September, when then-Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès said that it was not ready yet, but that authorities at a national, provincial and regional level were working on it.

After his appointment as the country's new Prime Minister at the start of October, Alexander De Croo stated that the barometer would not be launched before it was "perfect."

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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