As Belgium looks forward to its next set of social relaxations on 9 June, the experts are casting their eyes across the North Sea to the United Kingdom, and the development of the pandemic there, according to virologist Marc Van Ranst.
Interviewed yesterday by De Morgen – the day after the Consultative Committee issued its latest decisions – Van Ranst expressed misgivings about the speed at which things appear to be about to move. Judging by comments from the scientists, the government – with the exception of health minister Frank Vandenbroucke, whose plea for caution fell on deaf ears among his political colleagues – is moving too fast, and not paying enough attention to the evolution of the pandemic.
“Like everyone else, I personally look forward to additional relaxations,” he told the paper. “Getting some culture again, that will be nice. But as a virologist, I am concerned. The Consultative Committee is taking a risk. That could be fine if all the lights remain green. If the occupancy in intensive care really falls below 500 beds by June. However, that remains to be seen. We must not skimp on this figure in order to be able to relax.”
The current figure for ICU beds occupied stands at 657.
The 500-bed threshold, he argues, works for June, but should be brought down further for July and August, so that each month’s progressive relaxation is reflected in improvements on the health care front.
Meanwhile, even as the situation in Belgium is being kept under close review, all eyes are on the United Kingdom, and the progress of the so-called Indian variant, which is much more present there than it is here – for the time being.
The important point, he explained, is not that a virus mutates, but what the effect of that mutation has on the disease – more serious infections, more drastic outcomes, less effective vaccines.
“If not, you can live with many mutants. I understand people are concerned about this, even in line at the bakery, but it doesn't always have to be a huge problem.”
The situation in the UK offers a preview of what might or will happen here.
“With regard to the Indian variant, we will have to take a good look over the British wall in the coming weeks. This variant is already on the rise in the United Kingdom. And we should expect the same," he said.
"There is a good chance that the Indian variant will also become the new market leader in Belgium within two months and will replace the British variant. Certainly because in the summer, however you look at it, we will be exchanging viruses with each other thanks to the planned relaxations.”