“Up to 5% of people shedding coronavirus”

Steven Van Gucht of the health science institute Sciensano has urged people not to take their children to their grandparents.  The virologist was speaking as Flanders prepares for an extended half-term break. Prof Van Gucht noted that we are now in a critical phase in the epidemic: "What we do now will be decisive.  Within two weeks all critical care beds could be full.”  

“I admit it’s a difficult message” says the professor “but an enormous amount of virus is circulating in our society.  Over 1% of the population and possibly up to 5% are actively shedding virus loads.”

“Young children may have the virus.  They may not be visibly ill, but they may have coronavirus.  Mixing young children with grandparents is a risk.  We must be careful” Prof Van Gucht told VRT Radio.

“Now the half-term break will last a couple of days longer, parents may be in trouble facing childcare problems”.

“It’s a serious challenge in a difficult situation.  The virus is forcing us into this position.  I don’t have a ready answer.”

Steven Van Gucht added “The house is on fire, also in Flanders.  We need to act immediately.” Lapsing into English he said, “The Window of Opportunity is closing.”

Prof Van Gucht is siding with infectious diseases expert Erika Vlieghe, who told VRT “You shouldn’t wait until fire has destroyed half your house before you take clearer action.”

Prof Vlieghe was responding to the pronouncements of the Flemish PM Jan Jambon (nationalist), who told the people of Flanders he first wanted to see the effect of new measures: “As responsible politicians we must keep a cool head.  Should I squirt water onto my house now because a fire might occur?”

Prof Van Gucht noted Flanders was ten days behind Brussels and Wallonia: “That’s not much of a difference.  It’s on fire here too. Figures in Flanders are rising even faster.  In Wallonia they acted a little earlier and they’re seeing a slower rise.”

The virologist does not want to await the impact of measures before taking further action: “757 patients are receiving critical care.  Their number is doubling every eight days.  Within less than a fortnight 2,000 patients will be in critical care and that is our maximum capacity. It takes ten days for a measure to show result.  If we want to act, we need to act now.”

On Sunday Prof Van Gucht asked people to stay at home as much as possible.

Meanwhile, the Flemish government has announced it will meet on Tuesday evening to consider possible new measures. Initially PM Jambon (nationalist) had wanted to see if the new measures recently agreed bore fruit, but a new cabinet meeting has been pencilled in after “virologists formulated fresh advice and provincial governors warned of additional problems”. 

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