The Week (US)
Belgium: Back under lockdown as virus snowballs
“Belgium’s house is on fire,” said Francis Van de Woestynes in La Libre (Belgium). The autumn coronavirus surge is now growing at an exponential rate, and another strict lockdown has been implemented to prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed. On a single day this week we recorded 173 Covid-19 deaths, the highest daily number since April, and some 17,000 new infections—staggering numbers in a country of only 11.5 million people, about the population of Ohio. We have suffered more than 11,700 coronavirus fatalities to date, giving Belgium the highest per capita death rate in Europe, largely because of our fragmented government’s incoherent response to the pandemic. “As experts and hospital directors sounded the alarm bells, the country’s various ‘authorities’ bickered” and the virus spread. Most of Belgium’s intensive-care units are already full, said Franziska Wellenzohn in Tagesschau.de (Germany). Nurses say they are forced to keep working if they have tested positive but don’t have symptoms. If these frontline workers went into quarantine, “the health system would collapse.” Some desperate hospitals have started shipping patients across the border to Germany, where plenty of beds are available.
Belgium’s health crisis is a direct result of its governance crisis, said Simon Andries in De Standaard (Belgium). Chronically divided between French- and Dutch-speaking regions and parties, Belgium was left in the hands of a caretaker government for 494 days following the May 2019 elections, which produced no clear path to a coalition. With little leadership at the federal level, provinces and communities took their own measures to combat the virus. Hot spots emerged in the most lax areas, while in the most stringent, people quickly wearied of restrictions and threw caution to the winds. By a stroke of bad luck, coalition negotiations began to bear fruit in September—just as viral spread was again accelerating. Lawmakers were distracted with political horse trading and “lost a few crucial weeks.” Worse, the interim government had chosen that time to shake up its Covid advisory body, booting out several scientists to make room for business leaders who oppose virus-mitigation measures. By the time the new, seven-party coalition government was sworn in on Oct. 1, the catastrophe was upon us.
Now it’s back into lockdown, said Béatrice Delvaux in Le Soir (Belgium). Schools will be closed for two weeks, and for the next six weeks, bars, restaurants, and cinemas will be shuttered; teleworking will be mandatory for all employees who can work from home; and families will be allowed only one visitor. “We feel simultaneously stunned, relieved, and worried.” Our relief at finally having a real government that can make decisions is tempered by our horror at what those leaders are telling us. “We must drastically reduce our physical contact,” said Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. “These are the last-ditch measures.” This lockdown will be worse than the first this spring, because we are “exhausted from what we have already endured.” And this time, “we no longer have the certainty that we will ever return to normal.”