Seven confirmed coronavirus cases in Belgium following holiday week


At the close of a school holiday week, seven cases of the coronavirus have been diagnosed in Belgium. But more are on the way, according to virologists

Masks unnecessary, says expert

As of this morning, seven people in Belgium are confirmed to have the coronavirus. Six of them had returned from holiday in Italy. All of them are in quarantine either at home or in hospital.

The first diagnosis involved a woman who returned from a business trip to Paris last week. She became sick and went to Antwerp University Hospital, where she tested positive and is now in quarantine. She is said to be suffering mild symptoms of the virus.

The six other patients had all returned from holiday in northern Italy. This brings Belgium’s total infections to eight. The first coronavirus patient in Belgium returned from China in early February and is now clear of the virus.

The country has entered phase 2 of the coronavirus plan. That means that the virus has entered the country and that the people who came in direct contact with patients are all being tested.

Travellers to Belgium also infected

It was also reported that three people in other countries who have been diagnosed with the virus over the last few days all travelled in or through Belgium. Two of them passed through Charleroi airport, while another was travelling in Belgium before returning to Spain.

In the meantime, the 100 Belgians in quarantine in a hotel in Tenerife must remain there until 9 March, said De Block. Another 10 who had arrived on the Spanish island after the quarantine began returned home late last week. They all tested negative for the virus.

It is expected that more cases of the virus will be diagnosed in Belgium over the next week. De Block will give an update on the situation every morning at 10.00 until the virus begins to subside.

“This is in line with what we had expected,” said Steven van Gucht, head of viral diseases at the public health research institute Sciensano, “considering the current evolution of the virus in European countries and the fact that it coincides with the end of a holiday week.”

Closing schools is like shooting a mosquito with a cannon

- Health minister Maggie De Block

As Belgium is only in phase 2 of the three-phase coronavirus plan, there will be no effect on public services or schools, confirmed De Block. While the mayor of Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe in Brussels has asked that anyone who has travelled to China or the north of Italy stay home and out of the schools, De Block told VRT news that that was a “useless” measure “out of proportion” to the situation. “It’s like shooting a mosquito with a cannon,” she said.

VRT also took questions from the public yesterday and ran them by KU Leuven virologist Marc Van Ranst, who tackled that issue further. Here are a few questions and answers.

VRT: Schools are closed in Northern Italy, and Japan is taking similar measures. Why not here?

Marc Van Ranst: In both Italy and Japan, there are thousands of people sick with the coronavirus. There will undoubtedly be more here, but that does not mean that the virus is actively circulating. We have carried out tests in more than 700 people so far, and we have only found the normal flu. We have no reason to conclude at this point that there is an outbreak, so closing the schools would be a very premature measure.

VRT: Should we be wearing masks?

MVR: People who are already sick can wear a mask to prevent their respiratory droplets from infecting others. Health-care workers can also wear them to prevent themselves getting sick. Other than that, there’s no reason to wear one. China cannot keep up with demand, so if everyone buys them up from local pharmacies, then we don’t have any left for people who actually need them.

VRT: What’s the difference between the coronavirus and the normal flu?

MVR: The symptoms and high-risk groups are the same. The coronavirus is more contagious than the normal flu. As to whether it is deadlier, the information we have so far suggests that it is, to a limited extent. We also have vaccines for the normal flu and anti-viral drugs if needed. We don’t have those yet for the coronavirus. Also, nobody has built up immunity to the coronavirus.

The rest of the Q&A with Dr Van Ranst can be read (in Dutch) on the VRT website. The federal government also has a dedicated coronavirus website in four languages with an extensive FAQ section.

Van Ranst says that the best way to prevent getting the coronavirus is the same as preventing the regular flu: Wash your hands regularly, avoid greeting people with a handshake or kiss, cover nose and mouth when sneezing with a paper tissue that you then throw away and try to avoid touching your face with your hands.

Certainly don’t go to work or school if you feel sick. If you have flu symptoms (coughing, fever, respiratory distress), it’s best to call your doctor rather than go to a clinic or hospital. Your family doctor will advise you what to do.

The most recent figures show that, like the normal flu, the coronavirus mortality rate is the highest among people over 80 years old. That age group has a near 15% chance of death if infected with the virus. For the other age groups, the worldwide figures are: 70-79/8%, 60-69/3.6%, 50-59/1.3%, 0-49/0.4%.

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