Coronavirus ‘no more infectious’ than in spring, says Steven Van Gucht
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Coronavirus ‘no more infectious’ than in spring, says Steven Van Gucht

Credit: Belga

The rapidly rising infection figures in Belgium are not due to the coronavirus becoming more infectious, but due to the changing weather and context after the summer, health officials explained during a press conference on Monday.

“The virus that is circulating now is still very similar to the one that circulated in March-April,” virologist and interfederal Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht said. “It is very similar in terms of infectivity. We must point out, however, that the context has changed.”

The colder and more humid autumn weather has caused people to live and gather indoors much more than during the spring or summer. “Inside, the virus can spread more easily than outside, we have known that for a long time,” he said.

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Many of our contacts take place indoors now, making it easier to infect each other, according to Van Gucht. “This is something we also see with many other respiratory viruses that typically appear in autumn or winter.”

The weather could be one of the reasons why we are currently seeing such a sharp increase in the number of infections, he said. “This is not directly related to the characteristics of the virus itself, but rather to the weather and the context.”

If everything goes according to plan, there could be a vaccine in the spring, with Belgium envisaging the first vaccination campaign between March and June, according to Van Gucht.

“At that point, we are in spring, with summer approaching. That will also make things easier for us,” he said. “We know that we are going to live more outdoors, so the pressure of the virus will reduce quite a bit during that period.”

However, even with the vaccine, not everything will suddenly be fixed, Van Gucht said. “We will not suddenly be able to drop all the measures. We will need a certain transitional period, but it will be easier.”

Additionally, “there is every indication” that the coming winter period will be the most difficult. “We will have to get through it. Things can only get better after,” Van Gucht said.

On Monday 19 October, Belgium reported a daily average of nearly 8,000 new coronavirus cases, and hospital admissions and deaths also continue to rise, according to Sciensano’s latest figures.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times