At least 128 people in the West Flanders town of Houthulst have been infected with the new British variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19, Het Laatste Nieuws reports.
The outbreak took place in a care home in Houthulst, a small town of about 9,000 inhabitants north of Ypres, in the border area of West Flanders known as the Westhoek.
So far, the variant has been detected in 63 residents and 38 employees of the home, as well as nine people resident in an assisted living facility attached.
According to the town’s mayor, Joris Hindryckx (CD&V), three of the infected residents have died.
“We had a suspicion, given that the virus infects people so quickly,” Hindryckx said. “The Agency for Care and Health has confirmed to us that it is actually the more contagious British variant. How it got into the care home remains a mystery.”
The so-called British variant is a more contagious variety of the coronavirus, more correctly known as B-117. It emerged in the UK towards the end of last year.
The home is not the only place in Houthulst affected. In the last few days the number of people infected has risen steadily, and those infections also involve B-117.
“On Friday there were 40, now there are already 85, while two weeks ago there were only 8,” a town spokesperson said.
“There are 31 people over 65 years old involved. Of the 85 infected residents, 29 live in Merkem [in the centre of the municipality].”
Before the presence of the B-117 variant was confirmed this morning, the town had already taken the precaution of cancelling all social activities.
“The source of the outbreak is not yet known, but we are working hard on contact tracing,” said Hindryckx. “Infected persons have to be quarantined for ten days, instead of seven days with a normal infection.”
The mayor has now asked the provincial governor to send in assistance from the military to help out in the care home, where 38 members of staff will all have to quarantine.
Meanwhile in the care home, extra precautions have been taken.
“That’s the only thing we can do,” said director Jurgen Duyck. “Of the 63 infected residents, seven are in hospital. Unfortunately, three people have already died. Nine residents of the assisted living apartments on our site are also infected and two of them are in hospital.”
The home would be strictly applying precautionary measures, he said, while the search for the source of the outbreak goes on. None of the home’s staff has spent any time recently in the United Kingdom, he said.