Belgium’s second case of infection by the coronavirus has been announced by federal health minister Maggie De Block.
The first confirmed case of the infection was recorded last month.
The woman in the latest case is reported to be a Dutch speaker, and is currently being looked after in the Antwerp university hospital (UZA), the reference hospital for the north of the country.
“She was returning from one of the regions affected in France,” said Vinciane Charlier, spokesperson for the federal health ministry. “She followed the care protocol established for Belgium, which is how she came to be diagnosed.”
The protocol includes reporting for testing if returning to Belgium from a region where the disease has been recorded. According to Flemish health minister Wouter Beke, the woman presented at the UZA voluntarily on returning from a business trip to a region in France where cases of infection had been recorded.
Beke said the Flemish health care agency would now be contacting anyone the woman had been in contact with since her return on 26 February, and placing them in isolation if necessary. At the moment, he said, “Prevention is better than cure.”
At a press conference called by De Block on Sunday, Dr Erika Vlieghe, doctor in charge of the woman’s treatment at the hospital, said her symptoms are “moderate”. The woman tested positive at the UZA, but the hospital then sent samples to the lab at Leuven university hospital, the reference lab for the disease, for confirmation.
Also at the press conference, Professor Marc Van Ranst said his lab received the sample at 22.30 on Saturday evening, and carried out the five tests required to confirm the diagnosis.
However despite the latest case being the beginning of a new phase in the disease’s progress in Belgium, said Prof Van Ranst, the discovery of new cases is not a worry, because those cases can be treated.
“We are more concerned about those cases that go undiscovered,” he said. “The job now is to make sure we keep the net as fine as possible.”
Belgium’s first case of coronavirus infection emerged at the beginning of February in Brussels. The patient, Philip Soubry, was kept in isolation and later discharged from St-Pierre hospital when he tested negative. He reported no symptoms at all.
Meanwhile travellers returning from the north of Italy now the carnival holiday is ending are being asked to be extra vigilant.
“This concerns anyone who has recently returned or will be returning from Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna or Veneto,” said Joris Moonens, spokesperson for the Flemish agency for health care.
The Italian regions concerned are the seat of Europe’s most serious outbreak of the infection so far. According to the latest Italian figures from Saturday evening, 29 people have died, 105 are in intensive care, and 401 are recovering with lesser symptoms. Another 543 people are in quarantine at home, and 50 people are now considered cured.
“Anyone who develops symptoms such as fever, cough or a flu-like feeling should phone their family doctor,” Moonens said. The agency is advising to arrange a home visit from the doctor, rather than going to the surgery.
“If there’s a possibility you’re infected, the best thing is to avoid the doctor’s waiting room. That way you can’t infect others,” Moonens said.
Elsewhere, acting prime minister Sophie Wilmès has called a meeting of ministers of the inner cabinet, as well as other ministers concerned, for 14.00 in her office in Rue de la Loi. The meeting was called before the latest news of a new infection.