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Belgium has to ban non-essential travel, Van Ranst says

Credit: Belga

Belgium has to ban non-essential travel to prevent the further spread of more infectious coronavirus variants, according to virologist Marc Van Ranst.

About 100 cases of the UK variant have already been detected in Belgium, and the number should probably be multiplied by 100, he said. “A ban on non-essential travel would be best.”

“The variants are here, the travellers have brought in a lot of them, and that puts extra stress on the system,” he said on Flemish radio on Friday. “Although we are not making it easy for the virus: we keep our distance, we wear face masks.”

In the Chamber on Thursday, Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said that, due to these new variants, Belgium was facing “a new danger” and that the country’s Corona Commissionerate would have advice about an approach by Friday evening at the latest.

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However, the import of these variants is definitely due to travelling abroad, according to Van Ranst. “We have been warning about that for a long time now. If you let non-essential travel happen, then those variants will come in. Period.”

It is hard to keep the virus out in a country in the centre of Europe like Belgium anyway, and closing the borders “in today’s Europe” would be “extremely difficult,” Van Ranst said.

Earlier this week, Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden already stated that closing Belgium’s borders was “easier said than done” and that “in the European context, we have agreed not to do this unilaterally.

Even though Belgium’s infection curve is “very low” compared to other countries, most experts are not feeling comfortable about it yet. “In general, we are doing pretty well, but you do not want the extra influx of variants,” Van Ranst said.

“We are among the best countries in Europe, so we cannot say that we are at a lockdown-stage now, far from it,” he added. “But the plans are ready.”

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times