Relax rules now to avoid full hospitals again in autumn, Belgian expert urges

Relax rules now to avoid full hospitals again in autumn, Belgian expert urges
Credit: Belga

Belgium should relax its coronavirus restrictions now, while the ICUs are as good as empty, to spread out Covid-19 patients and avoid full hospitals again in autumn, according to infectiologist Jeroen van der Hilst.

Like the United Kingdom, Belgium should relax its rules quickly and "bite the bullet," Van der Hilst of the Jessa hospital in Hasselt told TV Limburg on Monday.

"Those who have not been vaccinated will get sick, but the elderly and vulnerable have had the choice to be vaccinated," he said. "So, we can relax the measures and spread out the associated hospital admissions, because otherwise there will be a peak in the autumn."

Almost 80% of adults in Belgium is fully vaccinated, but Van der Hilst underlined that with the very infectious Delta variants, vaccinated people can still get infected, and possibly infect others in turn.

"That means that people who have not been vaccinated and have not yet had the virus will get it sooner or later," he said. "So the message is: get vaccinated. Because that is what really prevents hospitalisations."

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While the number of Covid-19 hospitalisations remains low, it has slowly been rising in recent weeks, and Van der Hilst expects a peak in the autumn.

"At the moment we still have very few hospital admissions, but in the autumn we will certainly have more spread of the virus," he said. "And then, it will be the turn of that small group of people who have not yet been vaccinated."

"What we are doing now is actually making sure that we are going to have a high peak in the autumn," Van der Hilst added.

The current measures are based on the situation in Belgium of last year, he said, explaining that the mass testing of children no longer serves a purpose, for example, as the aim was to protect the elderly, but they have all had the opportunity to be vaccinated by now.

"Look at the situation in the United Kingdom, where they already started to relax the rules on 19 July, and where there were great concerns about the number of hospital admissions," he said.

However, the number of infections there has been halved and hospital admissions are falling, according to Van der Hilst. "The UK has already passed the big hurdle. If we do not relax the measures now, we will get to it in autumn."

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