This week will be important in determining whether Belgium has to introduce stricter measures to fight the coronavirus, including a potential second lockdown, experts told national media on Monday.
Belgium’s number of new coronavirus cases has been rising for several weeks now, a development that has already prompted the government to tighten rules again after relaxing them earlier in the summer. Antwerp saw the steepest increase, triggering a nighttime curfew in the city.
“If the numbers don’t stabilize this week, tightening is needed. I am not going to speculate about what they should be. But there are no longer many options,” said virologist Marc Van Ranst of KU Leuven. “Then you quickly end up with ‘lockdown-like’ measures and nobody wants that.”
According to data published by Belgian health authorities Monday morning, between July 31 and August 6, the number of positive test results in the country increased by 16 percent compared with the previous seven days. From Sunday to Monday, the number of confirmed cases grew by 751.
Geert Molenberghs, a professor of biostatistics also at KU Leuven, echoed Van Ranst’s concerns.
“If the current stricter rules don’t work, we will move toward lockdown again”— Geert Molenberghs, professor of biostatistics at KU Leuven
“As scientists, we are very concerned because not one major epidemic is spreading in our country, like during the first wave,” he said, explaining that this time around, there are actually 11 separate epidemics evolving differently across Belgium, making it more difficult to assess how the overall situation will develop.
“At the moment the total figure for our country is strongly influenced by what is happening in Antwerp — if the figures there fall, the figures for Belgium as a whole go down. But in the meantime, the epidemic is picking up in the other provinces,” he said.
Molenberghs did not want to rule out a new lockdown, either. “If the current stricter rules don’t work, we will move toward lockdown again,” he said, adding that the first one in the spring had turned out to be effective and that the next one could be less severe.
“No one is saying that the lockdown should be as strict as last time. Next time, for example, the schools and shops could remain open,” he added.
Meanwhile, Viruswaanzin, a group that is skeptical of the government’s pandemic policies and believes the threat caused by the virus has been exaggerated, has announced they will stage a protest in Brussels on August 16 and demand the resignation of Van Ranst as government adviser.
Camille Gijs contributed reporting.