“We are close to a tsunami”: that was the stark warning on the gravity of the situation in Belgium, from health minister Frank Vandenbroucke.
He told reporters that a “tsunami” would be a scenario where “we no longer control what is happening”. The health pressures in Brussels and the southern French-speaking Wallonia region were “the most dangerous in all of Europe”, he said.
Belgium is now recording on average almost 8,000 cases a day. Most are in Brussels and Liège. That figure is four times higher than the daily average only two weeks ago.
In the past three days, more than 10,000 daily cases were recorded.
The death rate is also slowly rising again, at around 30 per day. But that is still 10 times less than at the peak of the first wave, when Belgium had the world’s highest coronavirus death rate per capita.
There is concern over medical staff and their ability to cope with an influx of cases. Several hospitals in Brussels and Liège have started sending patients elsewhere to avoid saturation. In some cases hospitals in Aalst and Charleroi refused to accept new Covid patients. The mayor of Aalst, Christophe D’Haese, said “the limits of medical solidarity” had been reached.
Doctors’ surgeries are also feeling the strain. On Friday, I called my GP for a check-up and was told to avoid coming in because the chance of contracting coronavirus was too high. The doctor said the place was “an aquarium of Covid cases”. Authorities here blame the spread on “pandemic fatigue” – people becoming complacent and no longer observing social distancing rules.