Coronavirus in Belgium: ‘Panic is more dangerous than the virus’
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Coronavirus in Belgium: ‘Panic is more dangerous than the virus’

The first Belgian patient who tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday is "in good health." Credit: Belga

The first Belgian patient who tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday is in good health “and we should all stay calm,” said the Federal Minister for Public Health, Maggie De Block, during a press conference.

The infected patient was among a group of around 350 Europeans, including nine Belgians and three relatives, who were voluntarily repatriated from the province of Hubei, whose capital city Wuhan is the epicentre of the outbreak.

“Only one of the repatriated Belgians is infected, the others all tested negatively,” said De Block during a press conference on Tuesday morning. “Until yesterday, all patients were in separate rooms because we did not know if someone was going to test positive. The infected person has been quarantined, and the others can be together now,” she said, adding that none of the patients are panicking,

Upon arrival in Belgium, everyone on board of the plane was subjected to an extensive check-up, of which the results were communicated to the people in quarantine last night. The biggest infection risk occurs during the first seven days, but the repatriated citizens will be quarantined for “a very broad” 14 days, according to virologist Marc Van Ranst.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the countries whose citizens were on the same flight were informed of the infected patient immediately, so they can take appropriate measures.

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“We have taken all the measures, and have been prepared for the first patient for over two weeks now,” said De Block. “We should stay calm and pragmatic, the situation is under control. The panic is more dangerous than the virus,” she added.

“This virus has no consequences to the health of the general public,” stressed Steven Van Gucht, virologist and chairman of the scientific committee on the coronavirus. “People should just keep following the regular flu prevention measures, wash their hands, cough and sneeze in tissues, stay home when they are sick,” he added.

“We call on anyone who has come back from Wuhan, or China, in the past few weeks, and thinks they show even the slightest symptom, to come forward so they can be tested,” said Van Ranst.

Belgium’s first confirmed case comes as the virus, which has sickened at least 20,000 people since it broke out in late December, continues to spread globally, with the World Health Organisation declaring the outbreak a global health emergency last week.

In Europe, France, Germany, Finland, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the UK have all confirmed cases of the virus.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times