The Antwerp university hospital (UZA) is preparing a temporary annex in a container for use if or when cases of Covid-19 infection show up in Belgium.
“In the last few days the number of patients concerned about screening or referred to us has risen,” medical director Dr. Guy Hans told the VRT. “Because of that, we are working on creating a new reception area, in a container which is now being adapted, which will go next door to the emergency entrance.”
Belgium has only seen one case of Covid infection so far, and the patient concerned was cleared to go home ten days ago. However federal health minister Maggie De Block has admitted that the chances of the disease crossing Belgium’s borders is a real one, and medical facilities have started making preparations.
“A virus doesn’t stop at the border, so it’s likely that cases of infection will be reported here in the days and weeks to come,” Dr. Hans said.
For the time being, the hospital is coping with a growing number of people turning up with concerns over being infected, sometimes on the advice of their GP.
“We have noticed in the last few days that the problem is really beginning to have an impact on the working of the emergency department,” Dr. Hans said. “Anyone who comes in with a suspicion of being infected by the coronavirus will be directed to a separate service in the container, to be examined.”
At present no extra staff will be detailed to the new container unit, but the possibility remains that other departments of the hospital could be cut back or closed to free up staff should the number of cases require it.
“We’re now giving our staff extra information and training. They obviously have a broad basic knowledge, but we have a specific procedure for the coronavirus that everyone needs to be familiar with.”
The principal job for the medical establishment, in the absence of actual cases, is to reassure the public. The symptoms of a coronavirus infection are the same as for ordinary flu, Dr. Hans said.
“Those are mainly coughing, fever and increased mucus production. The chance that you have the ordinary flu is many times greater than that you’ve been infected with corona.”
And he advised not to go to the doctor.
“Don’t go and sit in the waiting room with all the other patients. Call your doctor first. They can then decide is there’s a risk, and if so they can refer you to the hospital.”
There, he said, everything stands ready. “We have the structures, the guidelines and the equipment to be able to place groups of people in isolation.”