BRUSSELS – Belgian authorities are poised to tighten restrictions even further after a curfew and mass closure of the hospitality industry has so far failed to sufficiently slow mounting infections, which threaten to overwhelm the country’s health system in a matter of days.
The country currently lays the unenviable claim to the highest contagion rate per capita in Europe with a cumulative incidence rate of 1,609 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people and an average of over 15,000 new infections a day.
“The indicators have not changed. They are still all in red,” Yves van Laethem, spokesman for the specialist coronavirus committee. said ahead of a high-level meeting to hammer out new restrictions in the country.
“In one week, we surpassed 100,000 infections,” he added. “And the mortality rate is doubling every six days. We don’t have much positive news to offer.”
Belgians are already subject to a nightly curfew and the country’s hospitality, leisure and culture sectors have been closed down.
The infection rate continues to grow by 38 percent each week, which is down from before the restrictions were put in place, when it was doubling every seven days.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo is to meet with regional leaders Friday afternoon. The details of the new restrictions are expected to be given soon after and come just two weeks after a raft of measure, including the curfew, were imposed in the country of 11.5 million.
Health minister Frank Vandenbroucke said it was inevitable that they would be tightened.
“There are two debates: toughen the measures and make sure they are applied and think about what we are going to do in the long-term,” he said. Earlier this week, he advised that restrictions would need to be in place for at least eight weeks to slow the upward curve of infections.
One of the foremost points of concern for the government is the swelling number of COVID-19 patients needing hospital treatment.
In the last 24 hours, 673 people were admitted to hospital in Belgium, bringing the weekly average increase in hospitalizations to 77%, a slight reduction compared to before the curfew. Additionally, there are 1,057 patients in ICU, a number that is slowly edging toward the peak of 1,285 registered in the first wave of the pandemic in spring.
“If this trend continues… we will arrive at the maximum of 2,000 patients in seven days,” Van Lanthem said.
Belgian health authorities also reported a further 138 coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours.
The regions of Wallonia, in the south, and the capital Brussels, are the country’s main hotspots.
The city of Lieges, for example, has a two-week cumulative incidence rate of 3,035 cases per 100,000 people while in Brussels, the institutional heart of the European Union, it stands at 2,130 per 100,000.
The regional Wallonian government is lobbying for drastic measures, while officials in Flandres, the Dutch-speaking north, are more reluctant.
“The only hopeful signal the government could give now is an immediate and total lockdown today,” said Dirk Devroey, the deacon of the medical and pharmaceutical faculty at the Free University of Brussels.
In a separate tweet, he wrote: “Without lockdown, we go straight to meltdown!”