First case of coronavirus confirmed in Belgium


One of the nine people repatriated from China has tested positive but is expected to be free of the virus shortly

14-day quarantine

Belgium has its first confirmed case of coronavirus, after one of the nine Belgians repatriated from China at the weekend tested positive. The patient arrived in Belgium on a specially chartered flight from Wuhan on Sunday and was due to spend two weeks in quarantine at Queen Astrid military hospital.

After extensive testing of samples in Leuven, the patient was transferred to Sint-Pieters university hospital in Brussels. They have been isolated and are expected to be free of the virus within a couple of days, but will remain in quarantine for at least 14 days. Sint-Pieters has been designated as the hub for care and prevention in Belgium in case of an outbreak as it has several experts in infectious diseases.

Federal health minister Maggie De Block said results had come back negative for the other Belgians. “The person who tested positive is in good health and has no signs of illness at the moment,” she added.

No travel to China

Originally it was reported that 12 Belgians had been flown back from China, but the number was actually nine. They were voluntarily repatriated from Wuhan, after being checked for symptoms of the virus. On landing, they were checked again.

“The protocol that we decided in advance has worked very well,” said Dr Steven Van Gucht, director of the scientific committee set up to monitor the virus in Belgium. “We had taken into account that this scenario could occur. A lot of precautions have been taken to ensure that the people could not infect each other. With every day that now passes, we can give more and more certainty that the rest of the group will remain virus-free.”

The other people at Queen Astrid hospital, in Neder-Over-Hembeek, are currently required to spend two weeks in quarantine, but their conditions may be reassessed.

The virus is under control in our country. Panicking would be more dangerous than the virus itself

- Maggie De Block

The virus has killed 425 people in mainland China, and two others in Hong Kong and the Philippines. The Belgian foreign office has warned against any travel to China, and anyone who has returned from the country in recent weeks is advised to consult a doctor. “We must remain calm and pragmatic,” De Block said. “The virus is under control in our country. Panicking would be more dangerous than the virus itself.”

Meanwhile, Volvo in Ghent has stopped running freight trains to Flanders from the Chinese city of Xi’an as a security measure. Volvo established a direct rail line between North Sea Port and Xi’an last year to transport its vehicles, with trains running twice a week. They will continue to run from Flanders to China, though production in China has stopped entirely because of the virus outbreak. Volvo took the decision following guidelines from the World Health Organization.  

Photo: KU Leuven virologist Marc Van Ranst, health minister Maggie De Block, Patrick Soentjes, head of infectious diseases at the military hospital, and virologist Steven Van Gucht
© Belga/Benoit Doppagne