There is an "increased risk" of travellers introducing new variants of the coronavirus in Belgium now that the ban on non-essential travel to and from the country has been lifted, health officials stated during a press conference.
When people travel abroad more, which will likely happen now that it is no longer forbidden, "it means an increased risk of introducing new or rare variants," said virologist and interfederal Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht.
"That is also why Belgium still strongly advises against travelling at the moment," he said, adding that when people do travel and return from a red zone, it is "incredibly important" that they quarantine and get tested.
If the test turns out to be positive, the virus sample will be analysed to look into whether it concerns a new or a rare variant, according to Van Gucht.
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"As vaccination rate gets higher and higher, we suspect that the British variant will gradually withdraw, reducing the number of infections with it," he said. "There may be a relative increase in other variants, such as the South African, the Brazilian, or perhaps even the Indian one, or who knows, even a new Belgian variant, which we do not know yet."
Additionally, people who have been vaccinated or already have antibodies against the classic virus can still get infected with a new variant, but that does not mean they will become very ill, according to him.
On Monday, Belgium's ban on non-essential travel was lifted, meaning that people no longer need "a sworn statement" declaring that their journey is essential to travel abroad, as announced by the Consultative Committee last Wednesday.
However, several officials have repeatedly stressed that this is "still not the time to travel," as most of Europe is still a red zone, and that the controls on testing and quarantining will be increased.
More info on the monitoring of returning travellers can be found here.
The Brussels Times