Belgium was able to curtail a second wave of coronavirus by limiting the number of people who can socialise together and imposing a nationwide curfew, data shows, as the UK looks to follow in its footsteps.
At a Downing Street press conference today, Professor Chris Whitty used Belgium as a shining example of a country that managed to thwart rising infections by rolling back lockdown restrictions.
The European country experienced a resurgence of the virus in mid-July that was comparable to the UK’s current trajectory, the Chief Medical Officer said.
On July 29, officials there brought in new rules reduced the number of people who could socialise together from 15 to five and introduced a 10pm curfew on the entire population.
Coronavirus infections started to rise in Belgium in mid-July, with the weekly case rate going over 35 per 100,000 by August- the level currently being felt in Britain – and daily infections breaching 1,000. The numbers have fallen over recent weeks, with only 194 new cases reported on September 1.
Professor Whitty said Belgium was a ‘clear indication that if you act rapidly and decisively when these changes are happening, there is a reasonable or good chance of bringing the rates back down under control.’
He used France and Spain – which were in a similar position as the UK a month ago but have seen cases continue to skyrocket – as examples of what can happen if Governments don’t intervene.
Boris Johnson today announced a new ‘rule of six’ today limiting the number of people who can socialise together after partying among young people fuelled a sharp rise.
Bars and restaurants in Bolton, which has the highest rates in the UK, have already been ordered to shut by 10pm and only serve takeaway and there have been reports that health chiefs are considering rolling the measure out nationwide.
At a Downing Street press conference today, Professor Chris Whitty used Belgium as a shining example of a country that managed to thwart rising infections by rolling back some lockdown restrictions. He said France and Spain’s crises had escalated because they have not acted
When Spain, France and Belgium hit 18 cases per 100,000 (which the UK did on Sunday) they then saw admissions increase by up to four-fold. But Belgium was able to reduce its hospital rate by reintroducing tough measures
In August the hospitalisation rate in Belgium doubled from one per 100,000 to two per 100,000, but it has since been squashed
Hospitalisation rates remain low and falling in the UK, from a peak of more than 30 per 100,000 people to fewer than one per 100,000, but officials fear they will rise again soon
Professor Whitty pointed to a chart comparing the UK with Belgium, France and Spain to show how the UK’s crisis was following the same trajectory seen in Europe.
He said health chiefs were keen to tighten lockdown restrictions like Belgium did to avoid cases skyrocketing even further, as they have done in Spain and France.
WHAT MEASURES DID BELGIUM INTRODUCE IN JULY?
- Gatherings limited to the five same people, down from 15
- 10pm curfews for everyone
- Crowds at events reduced to 100 outdoors, not the previous 200
- Masks mandatory if 1.5m distance can’t be maintained
- Work remotely where possible
- Weddings limited to ten people
- Police encouraged to fine people who flout rules
Those two nations have still not rolled back any Covid-19 rules but are suffering the highest infection rates in Europe.
France’s weekly case rate is thought to be 130 per 100,000, while Spain’s is 260, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Professor Whitty said: ‘What you can see is we’re following a pattern extremely similar to the one France followed, and in France that rate has continue to go up. The same is true in Spain
‘But in Belgium the same sort of graph was ha penning but then they took decisive action and at that point rates stabilised and started to come down.
‘It’s clear indication that if you act rapidly and decisively when these changes are happening there’s a good chance of bringing the rates back down under control.’
From Monday it will be illegal to assemble in groups of seven or more anywhere in England, whether indoors or out.
The limit – sparked by concern that partying young people are fuelling a flare-up – is a dramatic reduction on the maximum of 30 put in place on July 4.
It will be enforced by police with £100 fines, doubling on each repeat offence up to £3,200. Only schools, workplaces and a limited number of other locations will be exempt.
NEW LOCKDOWN RULES FOR ENGLAND FROM MONDAY
- Max social gatherings SIX PEOPLE
- Applies indoors and outdoors
- Applies in private homes
- Applies in pubs and restaurants
- Does NOT apply to schools or workplaces
- Does NOT apply to weddings, funerals, team sport
- Does NOT apply if household bubbles are bigger than six people
- Police will be encouraged to break up larger groups and issue £100 fines, which will then double on each repeat offence up to £3,200
Pubs and restaurants will also be legally obliged to collect contact information, whereas before it was at the customer’s discretion.
The Government is also reviewing the return of theatres and stadium events, with sports matches facing a 1,000 ceiling on attendance.
There will also be an introduction of ‘Covid-secure marshals’ in town centres to make sure people are social distancing.
Professor Whitty pointed the finger at ‘Generation Z’ for sparking a surge in cases in the UK.
He said the numbers of coronavirus case have been increasing ‘much more rapidly’ over the past few days.
While the numbers among older people and children remained ‘flat’, in other age groups there were ‘rapid upticks’.
He said among 17 to 18 year-olds and 19 to 21 year-olds the numbers had gone up ‘really quite steeply’ since mid August.
Government sources have voiced gloom about a ‘difficult six months’ to come. One official cautioned that it was not a scenario of ‘a couple of weeks and we’re back to where we were’, saying the R number was ‘clearly above one’.
In a grim assessment of the slog to come, Professor Whitty added: ‘Everybody I think in the country will know, and it has been widely reported that the period over autumn and winter, which is the period when all respiratory viruses have an advantage because people crowd together, more things are done indoors amongst other reasons, it is going to be difficult.
‘So the period between now and spring is going to be difficult because this is a respiratory virus.
‘I think in terms of the existing restrictions, people should see this as the next block of time that may not last for many months, but it is very unlikely to be over in just two or three weeks.’
Slides presented at the press conference tonight show that younger people are driving the increase in Covid cases