Belgian COVID-19 cases hit half a million, but signs of a peak emerge

BRUSSELS, Nov 9(Reuters) - The total of COVID-19 infections recorded in Belgium has hit half a million, according to data released on Monday, but the country may be past the peak of its second wave of coronavirus as the number of people in hospitals is decreasing slowly.

The country of 11 million, home to the headquarters of the European Union and NATO, has one of the world’s highest COVID-19 mortality rates and has seen one of Europe’s sharpest jump in cases during the post-summer resurgence of the virus.

Data from the Sciensano health institute showed that the number of positive COVID-19 tests crossed 500,000 on Sunday after a two-week period during which the daily average of new cases stood at more than 12,600.

There was a 40% drop in the daily average of cases over the past seven days from the previous week. Although this may be because authorities are now testing only people with symptoms, hospital admissions were down 9% over the same period.

Health Ministry spokesman Yves Van Laethem said he expected the number of patients in intensive care units (ICUs) to remain below the maximum capacity of 2,000.

“Even if the number of patients in intensive care is still slightly increasing, we can expect this number to level off during the week and to remain under 1,500 patients,” he told a news conference.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told La Premiere radio on Monday that the situation remained very difficult for hospitals.

“If we have reached a peak, it’s only after that we know it,” De Croo said. “It is clear that the end-of-year celebrations will be done in a different way.”

Belgium’s COVID-19 death toll since the pandemic began is 13,055, according to Sciensano.

The government has imposed social restrictions to curb the spread of the virus and will review these measures, including the closure of all non-essential stores, on Dec. 1. (Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine Editing by John Chalmers and Angus MacSwan)