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Belgium divided about going back into lockdown

Credit: Belga

As Belgium’s coronavirus infections figures continue to go up, experts and politicians alike remain divided on whether or not the country should return to lockdown.

“A short strict lockdown” of about four weeks would avoid “a much longer semi-lockdown period that will eventually exhaust and frustrate everyone,” Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst tweeted on Thursday morning. The health and socio-economic costs of a short lockdown would also be much lower, according to him.

His call echoes statements from microbiologist and former Sciensano spokesperson Emmanuel André, who said that Belgium was “heading straight towards a wall” and that a lockdown was the only option left.

“We must no longer ask ourselves what we should close. We must ask ourselves what to leave open,” he said. “Today, we have to talk about reconfinement. It is the only tool we have left.”

On Thursday evening, Belgium’s Consultative Committee will meet earlier than planned, to discuss possible stricter measures, but a second lockdown is not expected to be announced, as Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said that the government should “show steadfastness and not constantly change [its] strategy.”

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Virologist and interfederal Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht told The Brussels Times that he is not convinced a lockdown is the best solution, but that stricter measures would be a good idea, “particularly in the areas and regions where the biggest difference can be made to break the infection chain.”

He also stressed that the effects of the measures that went into force on Monday are not visible yet, adding that the decision on whether or not to implement further restrictions was “a bit like playing poker.”

“The question is: do we need to take additional measures, or are we relying on the population to respect the measures that were already announced sufficiently?” Van Gucht said.

Additionally, the Walloon provinces of Liège, Hainaut and Walloon Brabant, as well as the Brussels-Capital Region are currently particularly hard-hit, resulting in several calls, mainly in Flanders, to implement measures that are regional, instead of countrywide.

“Today, several people on the Francophone side are arguing for a new lockdown for the whole country. May I propose to take a provincial look at this?” said Bart De Wever, the mayor of Antwerp on Facebook.

During the summer, Antwerp implemented stricter measures – including a 11:30 PM curfew – than the rest of Belgium to stop the rising infections in the province. “We can base this on the 7-day figures for hospitalisations per 100,000 inhabitants. This parameter is purely objective,” De Wever said.

The leader of the Francophone liberal MR party, Georges-Louis Bouchez, on Wednesday called on the government to take stricter measures as soon as possible, including a general face mask rule and additional restrictions in the sports sector.

“I think that we will have to take additional measures and that this will have to be done faster than the planned evaluation within two weeks,” Bouchez said. “Otherwise, there is a high risk that the situation will escalate completely.”

Additionally, the question is also whether a decision about returning to lockdown should be taken now. The result of the previous measures will not be visible before the end of October.

“It is still too early today to see the impact of the measures we took. We are following the figures every day,” Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden said on RTBF radio. “We are trying to avoid lockdown, but we’ll see.”

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times