Nicolas Maeterlinck

Bio statistician says “it would be sensible not to allow events such as Christmas markets to go ahead”

The number of people testing positive for coronavirus continues to increase sharply. On Monday there were 15,000 positive test results, while on Tuesday 12,000 people tested positive for coronavirus. The bio statistician Geert Molenberghs is deeply concerned about the figures. Professor Molenberghs told VRT Radio 1’s morning news and current affairs programme ‘De ochtend’ that “It is clear that action is needed”. He added that in the first instance large scale events should as light festival and large Christmas markets such as Winter Wonders in Brussels should not be held as “it is currently not justifiable” to bring so many people together in one place. 

A very high percent of the population in Flanders is vaccinated so how can it be that that the coronavirus figures have worsened to this extent?

"We counted on the vaccines a little too much. The strength of the delta variant is still being underestimated. With the Wuhan variant the problem would largely have been resolved with this level of vaccination uptake”, Professor Molenberghs said.

However, with the delta variant “This level of vaccination uptake is not high enough”.

The bio-statistician points to the recent exponential rise in the number of new infections with coronavirus. “A peak in the number of infections had been expected around this time, but not in the number of hospital admissions. It’s now a question of waiting to see if the figures continue to rise or whether it is just a temporary peak caused by people putting off getting tested because of the holidays”.

However, even if the number of new infections falls the number of people with the virus that are being hospitalised will continue to rise.

"We now have 450 people (with COVID-19) in intensive care. I think that we will not be able to avoid reaching 600”

Previously the virologist Professor Steven Van Gucht had said that he hoped that the number of COVID-19 patients on ICUs would remain under 500. 

Gatherings

This begs the question of what needs to be done. Maybe a short, sharp lockdown like in The Netherlands?

"The question is whether a measure that is in force for just a short time works. There is a lot to say for bearable, stable measures over the long term. However, it’s clear that action needs to be taken”, Professor Molenberghs said.

The next meeting of the Consultative Committee is planned for next Friday. However, “No one is stopping us from exercising the necessary caution now. We need to think hard about big events that attract large numbers of people. Without pointing the finger at Brussels at Ghent, it is difficult to justify staging such events in the current phase (of the pandemic).”

The Flemish Brabant city of Leuven has already decided not to hold its Christmas market. Meanwhile, in Brussels work is currently under way to prepare for the opening of Winter Wonders in a couple of weeks. Professor Molenberghs believes that “it would be sensible” not to allow Winter Wonders to go ahead. 

"Living with the virus"

But when will we be finally say they we are able to “live with the virus”? 

"With the increase in the figures on ICUs there will once again be issues in the hospitals. The scaling down of care (for other ailments) is also a problem. This is not a situation reminiscent of a flu season, not even a severe flu season. There are currently more than 20 fatalities per day. This equates to 7,000 per year. That is the same as 7 flu seasons. For this reason alone, we can’t yet say that we are ‘living with the virus’”. 

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