No room for relaxations before end of March, expert report warns

No room for relaxations before end of March, expert report warns
Credit: Belga

Ahead of Belgium's Consultative Committee on Friday, the scientific experts advising the government do not leave any room for relaxations before the end of March, a new GEMS report shows.

In the report, the experts state that they do not see any possibility of relaxing some measures at the Consultative Committee on Friday, not even the expansion of the social bubbles for outdoor activities.

"In the short term, little is possible. Period," one source summarised the GEMS report to De Morgen.

However, in recent days, hope had grown that more contacts would be possible in the open air, as the risk of infection is relatively low when outside.

Outdoor groups of eight to ten people could be possible, but no earlier than the end of March, according to the experts, who stressed that everything depends on the evolution of the pandemic.

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In the meantime, the number of hospitalisations and the positivity rate have started rising again, meaning that the epidemic is gaining momentum. In Ghent, for example, the number of cases has doubled in only a week time, leaving the experts worried.

The uncertainty about the impact of the British variants means that the experts can offer very few perspectives, according to the newspaper, which added that the report does propose a phasing, but without a clear time frame.

Last weekend, Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke also said that it would be best to wait three more weeks before any significant easing of the rules, as the impact of the variant would be clearer then.

The experts' advice is in line with the mathematical models shown at a press conference that Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on Monday.

The models on which the experts based their advice showed that it is too early for relaxations: if Belgium lifts measures now, it can prepare for a third wave, with biostatistician Niel Hens stressing that the consequences could be "dramatic."

However, in the end, the final decisions will be made by the politicians at the Consultative Committee, not by the experts.

In the past few days, various party leaders already stepped up the pressure to allow more social contact between people, and the sunny weather has also seen many people gather in parks and square, often in larger groups than are currently permitted.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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