As coronavirus infections continue to increase across the European Union and more regions are becoming red or orange travel zones, health officials explained Belgium’s reasoning for assigning Spain a red colour code.
Since Belgium announced that almost the whole country of Spain was considered a red travel zone from last week, the Foreign Affairs Department received many questions about why that decision was taken, virologist and interfederal Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht said.
“The decision to assign Spain a red colour code was not taken lightly,” he said, adding that non-essential travel to a red zone is not allowed, and people returning from such a zone have to be tested and quarantined for 14 days when back in Belgium.
Red zones are areas with a greatly increased virus circulation. “In essence, when more than 1 person in 1,000 has been infected in the last 14 days, we consider this to be an increased risk,” Van Gucht said.
For this information, Belgium bases its decision on the official figures, reported by the countries in question.
“Additionally, we do not only look at the number of infections, but also at the trend of the figures, and the percentage of positive tests,” he said, adding that all these indicators are rising sharply in Spain right now.
“At the moment, Spain has the highest number of infections in Europe, with 263 cases per 100,000 inhabitants,” Van Gucht. “This is almost five times higher than in Belgium. In Madrid specifically, the figure is as high as 470 infected people per 100,000 inhabitants, which is more than three times higher than in Brussels, and the trend is still going up,” he added.
This week, Madrid announced extra measures to restrict social contacts, and pushed back to start of the new school year by a week, according to Van Gucht.
Besides Belgium, ten other countries are also asking travellers to go into quarantine upon their return from Spain, and another four ask for a test just before or after their return. “So, Belgium is certainly not alone in this travel restriction.”
The increase in figures is not limited to Spain, but is also happening in many other European countries, such as France and the Netherlands, which resulted in many red and orange regions for Belgians still looking to travel.
“At the beginning of August, Belgium was still in the top 4 countries with the highest infection rate. Over the course of August, we managed to flatten the curve and we are now in 9th place in the EU,” Van Gucht said.
On top of that, it is also important to remember that Belgium tests more than many other countries, when looking at the figures, according to Van Gucht. “For the figures to go down, in Belgium and everywhere, I cannot overstate the importance of keeping your distance from others, limiting social contacts and keeping good hand hygiene.”