Tragedy of errors: VRT News probes start of corona crisis

VRT’s current affairs flagship Pano (formerly Panorama) has reconstructed the start of the corona crisis in Belgium.  It discovered that 13 of the first cases could all be linked to a hotel in northern Italy.  The first days after the half-term break at the end of February were crucial for the COVID-19 crisis and a lot went wrong.

Thousands of Flemings spend the break on the ski slopes of northern Italy.  COVID-19 has arrived in Lombardy, but that is 300km from the skiing resorts, so no worries many think.

Dennis is one of the Flemish skiers.  Together with his family he stays at the resort of Obereggen together with around 50 Flemings from Limburg and Flemish Brabant.  They receive reassurance: the resort is far away from the risk areas.

On their return the skiers are not told to self-isolate, but many guests soon come down with coronavirus.

13 of Belgium’s first 23 cases were people staying at the same hotel as Dennis. Many Flemings want to get tested on their return, but testing kits are rather like gold dust.  Strict conditions are set on their availability: you have to have returned from a risk area and have a temperature and a cough or breathing difficulties.  The skiing resorts were not seen as risk areas. Dennis tries to get a test.  His GP states that his patient has a temperature when this isn’t the case, just to get a test.  The test result shows that Dennis is corona positive.  A failure to detect such cases meant the virus could spread at will.

77-year-old Herman too came down with COVID-19.  He got tested and was told that if he didn’t hear anything within 24 hours the result would be negative.  His test travelled to labs in Tienen, Leuven and Aalst and Herman was only informed of the positive result three days later.  In the meantime he believed he was negative, went about his daily activities and probably infected others.

Top stories