Belgium, one of the worst hit countries in Europe, is struggling to advance a key proposal in its pandemic strategy — a coronavirus barometer to gauge the seriousness of the crisis across regions.
For weeks, as cases spiked, Belgium had struggled to formulate a consistent strategy amid a “cacophony” of different responses. On October 30, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo rallied his new government and announced national measures to tighten restrictions.
These measures are now having an effect, as the rates of new infections and hospital admissions are starting to ease, according to the public health body Sciensano. Now, Belgian politicians want to plan ahead.
Months after its announcement, the coronavirus barometer could be part of the solution, applying color codes to different places based on the number of hospital admissions and infections. The problem: It’s nowhere to be found.
Presented at the end of September by former Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès, the barometer was intended to present the state of the epidemic as clearly as possible, which in turn would indicate which measures need to be taken in each region. The new government was supposed to present it by mid-October, but now, in early November, it has yet to be finalized.
Then, on Monday, Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke confirmed on Belgian radio that the barometer needs to be deeply “reviewed.”
“The barometer was conceived at a time when we believed that we could relax or tighten in steps,” he said. “We learned that — unfortunately — that is too simple.”
The priority, he explained, is to push cases to extremely low levels to avoid the risk of a third wave. Accordingly, the barometer must be re-thought based on these objectives or risk creating more problems, he added, without giving further details.
In an interview with Belgian media this past weekend, Coronavirus Commissioner Pedro Facon implied that the crisis is too advanced, adding that “we are now in an emergency that even goes beyond level four in the barometer.”
Yves Van Laethem, an infectious diseases specialist and spokesperson for Belgium’s COVID-19 crisis center, has underscored that outlook. In his view, the barometer is no longer a priority given the current state of the country. Rather, it was designed as a management tool to assess the alert level in a given region.
“I have the impression that [the barometer] is not judged as useful in the current situation,” he told POLITICO. “It’s so obvious that it is not going well that you don’t need an instrument for it.”