Belgium’s Crisis Centre gives an update about the country’s coronavirus figures during a press conference on Tuesday morning.
“The plateau phase of the figures that we have known for some time continues,” said virologist and interfederal Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht. “For ten weeks now, the infection figures have been fluctuating between weekly averages of 2,000 to 2,500 infections per day.”
The greatest increase in the number of infections is currently seen in Wallonia, according to Van Gucht. “Additionally, the rise in the number of infections is in line with the increasing number of tests taken.”
Following the compulsory use of FFP2 masks in Germany and Austria, and also the emergence of more contagious variants of the coronavirus, the Risk Assessment Group (RAG) has drawn up a new recommendation on the use of face masks.
“First, fabric masks or disposable masks are still the standard choices in Belgium,” Van Gucht said. “Fabric masks are also still satisfactory. Disposable masks are not necessarily better.”
“Secondly, scarves, neck warmers or bandanas should not be used as an alternative anymore,” he said. “This was only allowed because there initially was a shortage of masks.”
FFP2 masks are not recommended for the general population, Van Gucht stressed. “They are expensive, cannot be reused and are uncomfortable to wear.”
Masks with an exhaust valve should not be used either. “You will typically find them on industrial masks that you can buy, for example, at the DIY store,” he said. “The droplets can escape through the valve and infect those around us.”
“As a general rule, we would like to reiterate that it is not the type of mask, but how and where we wear it that is most important,” Van Gucht said. “Masks should be worn by all people over 12 years of age, in the classroom, on public transport, in shops, inside public places, and in the open air when we cannot guarantee distance such as in a busy shopping street.”
The new RAG advice also recommends wearing masks in the office, or in enclosed spaces that people share with others who are not part of their own household, even if the social distance of 1.5 metres can be kept, because people sit together in the same room for long periods of time and talk a lot.
He stressed that it is not the intention to take off your mask when talking with colleagues, or when talking on the phone.
Dirk Ramaekers of the Vaccination Taskforce also gives an update about Belgium’s vaccination campaign.
“Vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine continues unabated,” he said. “The side effects reported after vaccination appear to be mild, such as some increased temperature or pain in the upper arm.”
“Twee weeks ago, vaccination in hospitals has started. In 40 hospitals the Pfizer vaccine is used, because they can keep the vaccine at a very low temperature,” Ramaekers said. “In the general other hospitals, the Moderna vaccine is used.”
For this week, the delivery of 25,200 instead of 31,200 Moderna doses is expected. “This reduced delivery will have a limited impact on the vaccination in the hospitals as long as Moderna fulfils the next deliveries, which are expected to be bigger.”
Until last week, more than 280,000 people had been vaccinated, or about 3% of the adult Belgian population.
“Regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine, the taskforce is waiting for advice from the Superior Health Council about which groups should be vaccinated with this vaccine,” Ramaekers said.
The announced production problems at AstraZeneca will delay vaccinations in February and March in the short term.
“From April, we expect larger quantities of the Pfizer vaccine, in addition to AstraZeneca, and possibly also the Johnson&Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose,” he said. “If the expected deliveries take place, we can keep the schedule to start vaccinating the healthy adults before the summer.”