Belgium has declared its first major outbreak of the South African variant of the virus that causes Covid-19, with the infection of 15 people in Ostend.
One case of the variant was detected earlier in the week in the coast city. Today, another 14 were discovered in the geriatrics department of the Sint-Jan hospital. Another single sample was found in a care home.
And the chance is high that more cases will come to light. Another 22 residents of the home are infected with Covid-19, but their samples have not yet been tested for the presence of the variant.
“We really have to keep the South African variant out,” said virologist Marc Van Ranst earlier in the week. At the time, that seemed feasible: only eight samples had been found in the whole country.
But the discovery of a larger outbreak raises new fears. Like its British counterpart, this variant is known to be more infectious that the ordinary virus, and so is more likely to spread quickly.
At the moment a local crisis cell under mayor Bart Tommelein (Open VLD) is sitting, to keep a close watch on the situation. The cell will take into consideration the need for special measures to tackle the outbreak.
Elsewhere in Ostend, a rehabilitation centre has reported a suspected outbreak of the Spanish variant. Patients there have been placed in lockdown.