July 17, 2020 / 10:48 AM / a month ago

Belgium could be at start of localised coronavirus 'second wave', virologists say

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium may be at the start of a second wave of coronavirus infections after reporting a 32% increase in weekly cases, though for now the resurgence appears more localised than the initial outbreak, virologists said on Friday.

Lily Hendrickx, 83, a resident at Belgian nursing home "Le Jardin de Picardie" enjoys hugs and cuddles with Marie-Christine Desoer, the director of the residence, through a wall made with plastic sheets to protect against potential coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infection, in Peruwelz, Belgium July 1, 2020. Picture taken July 1, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Belgium, which has reined in the coronavirus after becoming the worst-hit mid-sized country in the world, reported zero new COVID-19-related deaths in 24 hours on July 14 for the first time since March 10. [nL5N2EL4GY]

But the national public health institute Sciensano said on Friday that new infections have been increasing. From July 7-13, the country recorded an average of 114.7 confirmed new COVID-19 cases per day, a 32% increase from the previous week.

This was still significantly below the 1,600 daily new cases the country logged at the peak of the pandemic.

“With the latest numbers and the recent increases of confirmed cases, you can clearly see that we are at the start of a second wave,” virologist Marc Van Ranst told Belgium’s Radio 1.

However, Yves van Laethem, a spokesman for the Belgian health ministry, told Belgian broadcaster RTBF that the prospect of a second wave appeared to be localised to particular provinces for now. Speaking to Le Soir newspaper, virologist Marius Gilbert echoed this, adding that transmission rates remain relatively low.

The so-called reproduction rate of COVID-19 infections, which shows the average number of infections caused by each person with the virus, has increased in Belgium to above 1 for the first time since the peak of the pandemic on April 4. [nL5N2EM4PM]

Health Minister Maggie de Block on Friday said “the numbers are clearly not good” and called on Belgians to respect social distancing rules.

Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes postponed this week a further easing of rules on social gatherings after infections climbed, and said she could not rule out the reintroduction of lockdowns in worst-hit areas. [nL5N2EM4PM]

The government will meet on July 23 to discuss its response to the uptick in new cases.

Reporting by Marine Strauss; Editing by Kate Abnett and Alex Richardson

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