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Belgium is yet to hit peak infections, experts warn

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Belgium will not reach its peak number of coronavirus infections until at least a week, if not 10 days from now, with a difficult four weeks fighting the virus ahead, experts have warned.

Infection numbers will likely continue to rise in the coming weeks, as the impact of new measures begins to take effect, epidemiologist Pierre Van Damme told HLN. “We suspect that in a week or maybe ten days we will hopefully reach a plateau and preferably a decrease”.

How high this peak will reach “depends on the human factor,” according to Van Damme. “What we’re seeing now is the result of our behaviour over the past two weeks. We can certainly still get days of more than 12,000 new infections. This is followed by a peak in hospitalizations and we must see that it does not start to crack at that level because that would be particularly bad”.

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Leaving schools open full-time for as long as possible and for as many children as possible remains a good idea, according to the epidemiologist.

“This would be different for a flu infection because children are often the driving force behind the epidemic. Figures from the CLBs show that this is not the case with Covid-19”.

Two Difficult Weeks

“We are going to have two to four difficult weeks in the fight against the pandemic,” microbiologist Herman Goossens (UZ Antwerp) told Radio 1 (VRT) on Tuesday morning.

The various health ministers decided on Monday that screening capacities would be temporarily made available to symptomatic patients as a priority. This followed news from the end of last week that laboratories that could no longer cope with the flood of tests. A major manufacturer was also no longer able to provide screening kits.

“That’s why the government acted quickly and decided to focus on symptomatic (screening) patients,” Goossens said.

Currently, the ratio of symptomatic to asymptomatic patients is 50-50 in Belgium. In the Netherlands, for example, it is 90/10. The top priority now is to screen and treat symptomatic patients. Clusters and preventive screening of certain target groups will come in second and third priority.

For his part, Van Damme acknowledges that the new strategy means results will have to be viewed differently. “We are indeed going to have to re-examine the interpretations of the infections and the test positivity and we have to be careful with them”.

A New Testing Strategy

Currently, Belgium is carrying out 60,000 to 70,000 tests per day, according to Goossens. While this quantity will be temporarily reduced, the aim is to increase the capacity in the long term, with eight additional screening laboratories to soon be made available.

A new screening strategy will be developed after this difficult period, which will last at least until November 15. There will also be room for rapid tests, although this cannot be done overnight. “Some preparation is needed so that it doesn’t become chaotic,” anticipates Herman Goossens.

Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times