First relaxation at the earliest on February 1

The government has approved a new exit strategy to get our country out of the lockdown in a controlled manner. No real relaxation would be possible before February 1. The catering industry will remain closed until then.

The details are known about the corona switch, the instrument with which the government wants to contain the pandemic. The top federal ministers and the states have approved a proposal from Corona Commissioner Pedro Facon on the consultation committee. There will be two phases: a downward phase (in which a lockdown is in effect) and a safe default phase (in which it must be strictly monitored that the virus does not flare up).

Lockdown threshold

A threshold has been set as of when the country must be back in lockdown: if there are more than 800 new infections per day and the positivity ratio (the number of positive cases versus the number of tests) rises above 3 percent, or the number of admissions above 75 per day rises. ‘We have to make sure we are far enough from the storm. So even after we have passed the threshold, we have to ensure that the situation improves systematically, ‘says Minister of Health Frank Vandenbroucke (sp.a).

Vandenbroucke also emphasized that it will not be an automatic, technocratic decision based on the pure numbers, it is still preceded by a political decision. ‘Once the threshold has been reached, there will be political consultation about the steps we can take. For example, the arts that can be revived on the basis of protocols. ‘

75

Lockdown threshold

A threshold has been set as of when the country must be back in lockdown: if there are more than 800 new infections per day and the positivity ratio (the number of positive cases versus the number of tests) rises above 3 percent, or the number of admissions above 75 per day goes.

The switch is the replacement for the previously developed coronabarometer with different phases with corona rules, depending on the state of the epidemic. It was handed over by Vandenbroucke before its introduction.

The reasoning behind it was that working with phases makes no sense. “Because before you know it, it will be too late, as the second wave proved.” Because Wallonia and Brussels first let it go too long after the virus started circulating again from the summer, the epidemic exploded. There was no other option than to largely put the country back into lockdown.

Being on the virus

The strategy now becomes: sit on the virus until it is small enough again, and then open up with strict monitoring of the epidemiological figures.

A forecast is made about the timing of the easing. If a first evaluation on January 15 is favorable, a first relaxation is possible from February 1. ‘But in the end it will depend on the evolution of the epidemic’, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD) made it clear that a reopening of the catering industry even by February 1 is not certain.

Reaching the safe zone does not therefore mean that society as a whole can open in an instant. After that it will be slow, because there must be three weeks between each relaxation. Moreover, it will be crucial that there are sufficiently strong dikes: testing must be in place, as must contact and source detection.

Eight scenarios

Why will it take so long? Professors Niel Hens and Steven Abrams, who assist the government with mathematical models on the evolution of the pandemic, outline a number of scenarios in Pedro Facon’s proposal to the consultation committee. The researchers looked at eight different scenarios, based on the activity in schools, higher education and the leisure contacts of children.


We will probably only reach the ‘safe zone’ of less than 75 hospital admissions per day after the holidays. However, the rapid expansion of leisure contacts among children and young people can have a significant negative impact.

Note Pedro Facon to the consultation committee on exit strategy

Opening up lower secondary and higher education as currently envisaged will have a limited delaying impact on the further decline in the number of hospitalizations. We will probably only reach the ‘safe zone’ of less than 75 hospital admissions per day after the holidays. However, the rapid expansion of leisure contacts among children and young people can have a significant negative impact. ‘

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