UK virus variant becomes dominant in BelgiumSaturday, February 27, 2021
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AFP)— The more contagious British variant of the coronavirus is now the dominant strain in Belgium, authorities said Friday, as they explained why infection numbers have again started to rise.
"Last week, we estimate that 53 per cent of infections were caused by the UK variant, against 38 per cent a week earlier," a spokesman for the government's coronavirus response, Steven Van Gucht, told a news conference.
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in a separate media conference that "the situation is very delicate" in the country, in particular because of a worrying rise in hospitalisations over the past week.
The UK variant, technically identified as B.1.1.7, is considered a "variant of concern" because it is more infectious -- though it has not been shown to be more dangerous in terms of deaths or intensive hospitalisation than earlier forms of the coronavirus.
It emerged late last year in southeast England, prompting EU countries to quickly restrict movement from Britain.
Current COVID-19 vaccines are shown to be effective against the UK variant.
That, however, is not the case with other variants that have popped up elsewhere in the world: one in South Africa (B.1.351) and another in Brazil (P.1), both of which appear to have a level of vaccine resistance.
In Belgium, just 2.2 per cent of all detected cases are of the South African variant, and 0.9 per cent are of the Brazilian strain.
In neighbouring France, authorities say the UK variant now accounts for "around half" of its Covid-19 cases, which are also increasing.
Belgium on Friday recorded a 24 per cent rise in infections compared to the previous week, with a daily average of 2,300 cases detected.
According to Van Gucht, that increase has pushed the country back to the situation it was in around a month ago.
All age groups are affected by the surge in infections, except for those over 80 years old who have since January been vaccinated in priority.
A nation of 11.5 million which has seen over 22,000 fatalities, Belgium has the highest death rate of any country in the world when compared to the size of its population.
De Croo said it would be "irresponsible" to think about easing lockdown measures that were imposed nearly four months ago and ratcheted up since.
Belgium has a nighttime curfew and bars, restaurants and cafes closed, and limits the number of people who can meet outdoors to four and indoors to one guest. Schools have remained open, but university students are being held remotely.
The European Commission has singled out Belgium along with five other EU countries for travel restrictions deemed excessive.
Since January 27, Belgium has banned non-essential trips abroad, even to EU countries with lower infection rates.
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