Stricter rules today will already improve Belgium's figures 'in a week,' says expert

Stricter rules today will already improve Belgium's figures 'in a week,' says expert
Credit: Belga

If the Consultative Committee decides to implement strict coronavirus fighting measures today, they will already have a positive effect on Belgium's figures in a week, according to biostatistician Geert Molenberghs.

Exponential growth in the infection figures can still be avoided, but if the current rise continues, Belgium will reach 10,000 cases per day between now and ten days, according to Molenberghs.

"[The figures] are never going to go down from one day to the next all of a sudden. Unfortunately, it is a slow process," he told Het Laatste Nieuws. "However, if strict measures are taken, they will have an effect in a week."

It is "understandable" that people are "sick and tired" of all the rules and measures, Molenberghs said, but added that Belgium's neighbouring countries are applying stricter measures.

"Our package was stable but not the most stringent, and we did not manage to break through the barrier of 2,000 infections per day," he said. "If the measures are tightened further compared to what it is today, the curve goes down. That is a fact."

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"In March and April, with a fairly total lockdown, we managed to reduce the figures very sharply. In May and June 2020, we went down to 85 cases a day. We would be very happy with that today," Molenberghs said, adding that he is "quite hopeful" the measures will be followed by the population.

"However, we will still have to go through a difficult period," he said, referring to the occupancy rate in the hospitals. "More than 600 people are in intensive care. That number is almost half of the maximum occupancy we had in March and April 2020."

While the rise in the number of infections can be seen across the board, a particularly sharp rise is seen among 10- to 19-year-olds, Molenberghs pointed out. "With that in mind, it is logical that school closures are being considered," he said.

After the last Consultative Committee on Friday, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo tasked the country's different education ministers with coming up with a new plan to reduce infections in schools by Monday.

On Sunday evening, the education ministers held a press conference to announce the measures they agreed on, but they were not as far-reaching as Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke had implied were necessary to spare other sectors.

Even though many expected that lessons would not take place physically in the coming weeks before the Easter holidays, or that the holidays would be extended, the education ministers insisted that schools remained 100% open to all pupils, and announced some smaller adjustments.

"A model is possible in which the schools remain open and a package of other measures is very strict. There are also pleas for a lockdown in which everything is shut down as much as possible for a short period, three to four weeks," Molenberghs said.

"Those two models are both possible and the Consultative Committee must make a choice," he added.

The Committee meeting started this morning at 9:00 AM, and is still ongoing. It will be followed by a press conference to announce the latest decisions, according to De Croo's cabinet, but he timing has not been announced yet.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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