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Three-phase plan should coronavirus reach Belgium
As a seventh patient with the coronavirus has died in Italy, federal health minister Maggie De Block (Open VLD) took to Radio 1 this morning to discuss the situation and emergency plan in place in Belgium. “The chance is very real that the virus will make it to our country,” she said. “But we have a plan.”
De Block (pictured) has worked over the last several weeks with the federal public health agency and have put together a scientific committee and a risk-management committee. She has also met with her counterparts in other EU member states. Belgium has since launched a three-phase plan.
Phase 1, prevention: Work to keep virus from reaching Belgium, quarantine anyone repatriated from affected areas, examine patients with symptoms. Belgium is currently in Phase 1 of the coronavirus plan.
Phase 2, limited infections: Quarantine patients in hospital wards, test people who have come into direct contact with patients, communicate positive test results to EU central.
Phase 3, an outbreak: This means that people are regularly testing positive for the coronavirus. In addition to Phase 2 measures, there will be an emphasis on medical care for those who are infected to limit any potential fatalities. Italy is currently in Phase 3.
The government is prepared to shut down schools, public transport, cinemas, football stadiums and other public places where hundreds of people gather as well as quarantine entire villages if necessary, like is happening in Italy. “If it becomes necessary, we will do it,” said De Block. “We will consider every measure, but in the case of quarantining whole towns, there would need to be many infections in one town.”
At this point, however, “it’s about waiting, watching and making sure that the hospitals are ready. We are alert and ready for what could happen.”
As it’s a school holiday, some Belgians are travelling in Italy – though are not allowed in quarantined areas where there are many infections. Belgians travelling back from Italy will not be tested for the virus or automatically put into quarantine, said De Block.
“That would be pointless because of the incubation period,” she said. “There are people who are infected but have no symptoms, for instance. The one infected patient we had in Belgium also had no symptoms. No fever, not even a runny nose.”
That person had been repatriated from China and was in quarantine in hospital until the virus was clear of his body. He has since gone home.
De Block suggests that people take the same precautions against this virus as against the flu. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water more frequently than usual, try not to get too close to someone who is sneezing and coughing. “It’s also best to use disposable tissues and then throw them away,” she said. “And maybe less kissing,” she added with a laugh.
What she doesn’t want to see, she said in the interview this morning, is people panicking and staying home or stocking up on water and food. “That is really not necessary.”
The Belgian government has launched a website in four languages to address people’s concerns and questions about the coronavirus.
Photo: Benoit Doppagne/BELGA