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Coronavirus in Belgium: The latest developments

16:00 22/09/2020
Last update: Tuesday 22 September. Recent updates are in bold. For latest figures, see below.

What's the latest?

The number of people admitted to hospital with Covid-19 has reached an average 50 per day, according to the latest figures released by Sciensano, and the number of confirmed infections over the last seven days is 50% more than the previous week. (See full figures below.) In the face of continually rising numbers, the National Security Council will meet tomorrow morning. An update to coronavirus measures is expected sometime in the afternoon. One proposal the council will be considering is to make the bubble of five more flexible. The corona advisory board Celeval has proposed that every province be judged separately and measures regarding social contacts be adjusted depending on the infection rate of the entire province. Where Brussels falls in the provincial plan is as yet unclear.

A diagnostics developer in Ghent is working on a home test for Covid-19. According to Antelope DX, it would work similarly to a pregnancy test; consumers would simply buy the test in the pharmacy and take it home to use it. The test works with a microchip, however, and would be fairly expensive – at least €50.

Working from home is still the norm for 45% of all Belgians, according to a survey by the Vias Institute, the country’s mobility expertise centre. While a slight majority of the respondents said they worked one or more days at home, one in five is working from home every day. Before the corona crisis, that figure was only 3%. More than one in four workers, however, said that they do not have a proper workspace at home, and a full 39% did not have a quality office chair. Sigrid Dereymaeker of human resources services SD Worx advises employees to get a written agreement from their employers as to the days and hours they will work at home. This could be helpful in terms of worker’s compensation insurance in case of an accident. She also notes that employers are not required to reimburse workers for teleworking – even though they are using their own electricity, internet connection, furniture, etc – but there are fiscal advantages for employers that do. Regulations governing regular and occasional teleworking can be found on the federal labour department website.

Both tour operator TUI and high-speed train Thalys have significantly cut their services for the autumn and winter. TUI had already announced that one-fifth of autumn flights had been scrapped and has now said that its winter tours would be at about 40% of normal capacity. Thalys, currently operating at about 60% capacity, will also operate at 40% capacity starting on 1 October. There will still be eight trains a day between Brussels and Paris, five to and from the Netherlands and two to and from Germany.

The National Security Council is set to meet on Wednesday to discuss the coronavirus measures in the face of fast-rising infection rates. Infections are particularly noticeable in younger age groups than was seen in the spring. Over the last seven days, an average 45 people a day have been hospitalised due to complications from the virus. In the seven day period previous to that, the figure was 30 per day. (See more figures below) It has been more than a month since the last Security Council meeting, which, according to Geert Meyfroidt, a professor in intensive care at KU Leuven, is too long. “You cannot go a month without meeting and taking decisions,” he told Radio 1. “The timing of measures is as crucial as the measures themselves.”

The infection rate among teenagers is currently the highest among all age groups, according to public health institute Sciensano. It is also growing substantially among children. So the federal government has launched the website BE-Ready, aimed at teachers and pupils. The site includes a game that pupils can download to teach them about all kinds of risks.

A new Covid-19 testing centre has opened at the Saint-Jean Clinic on Boulevard Pachéco in the centre of Brussels. The centre is equipped to carry out up to 1,400 tests a day. Patients with a doctor’s note can just show up at the test centre; others must make an appointment. Anyone returning from a red zone, wanting to travel outside of Belgium or who has been contacted by a Contract Tracer is required to be tested. The test centre is open weekdays from 9.40 to 17.30.

Most universities and colleges are starting up this month under code yellow, the same risk colour code under which primary and secondary schools are starting. Both Brussels universities ULB and VUB are starting up under code yellow. Universities in Ghent, Antwerp and Hasselt, however, are starting the academic year in code orange. Yellow indicates a low risk of infection with basic safety measures in place. Orange indicates a systematic spread of the virus, with both in-person and distance learning the norm. “Antwerp University has 22,000 students,” said UAntwerp rector Herman Van Goethem. “We see limiting the number of students in circulation as an important contribution to reducing the rate of infections.” Both ULB and VUB said they were beginning in code yellow but would transition to code orange in the coming weeks if necessary.

A Kiosk Radio event in Brussels Park on Sunday got out of control, with up to 100 people dancing close together to the beats of DJ Lefto and Belgian rapper Zwangere Guy. Most of them were not wearing facemasks. “Volunteers always run the events really well, but yesterday we lost control. That was not at all our intention,” said a Kiosk Radio volunteer. The event coincided with Car-Free Sunday, so there were many more people than usual at the park. The police showed up, and the organisers stopped the music, but some people continued dancing. “We really don’t want to be a bad example,” said the spokesperson. “This won’t happen again.”

Members of Brussels minister-president Rudi Vervoort’s cabinet met with an expert scientific committee and concluded that new measures to control the spread of the coronavirus were not needed. The cabinet did announce, however, that a Security Council meeting would be held with all 19 Brussels mayors on Monday. The mayors will discuss how to communicate about the measures currently in place and ensure that people are following them. One mayor who will not be present in person is Ridouane Chahid, who has tested positive for the virus.

The governors of the Brussels-Capital Region and Flemish Brabant are discussing ways in which the two provinces can better communicate about coronavirus infections. The co-operation follows mayors in the Flemish periphery around the capital expressing their concern that Brussels’ measures have a major impact on their own infection rates. “We are seeing that in the cities that border Brussels many people are getting infected when they are in Brussels,” said Flemish Brabant governor Jan Spooren. “People work in the capital and go to school there. There are also many pupils in Brussels who go to school in the peripheral cities. A quick and systematic method of sharing information is necessary,  he said, “in order to immediately implement appropriate measures to prevent the spread of the virus in their own cities”.

Latest trends - Tuesday 22 September

Over the past seven days

  • Average daily infections: 1,232 (+51% on previous period)
  • Total infections: 103,392
  • Average daily deaths: 2.4 (0%)
  • Total deaths: 9,950
  • Average daily hospital admissions: 50 (+59%)
  • Currently in hospital: 486
  • In intensive care: 87

Is there an official Belgian website to get the latest information?

There are two, in fact - www.sciensano.be and www.info-coronavirus.be - plus a freephone helpline: 0800 14 689. You can be on hold for some time.

Read more on The Bulletin

Photo ©Dirk Waem/BELGA