More than 100 people have been infected in a retirement home in northwestern Belgium with the British variant of COVID-19, which has infected two-thirds of residents and caused three deaths.
A total of 111 people (72 residents and 39 staff) tested positive in De Groene Verte rest home in Merkem (municipality of Houthulst, West Flanders), its director, Jurgen Duyck, told AFP.
Three residents of the rest home died, also said the mayor of Houthulst, Joris Hindryckx.
In this town of 10,000 inhabitants about thirty kilometers from the French border, around fifty people have been infected with this British variant of the coronavirus, according to him. This figure does include some of the 39 nursing home staff, however, he said.
The Belga agency, which had reported eight people infected with the same variant in an institution for the disabled in this locality, citing the Flemish Agency for the disabled, clarified in the evening that this contamination by the English variant n was not yet confirmed.
According to the mayor, the origin of cluster is not yet determined, but it is a priori an “indirect source”, no known person having stayed in the United Kingdom, according to him.
He specified that “all social and sports activities have been banned” in his town. Those infected must quarantine themselves for ten days instead of seven, Mr Hindryckx continued.
The vaccination was due to start this week in the retirement home, but was made impossible by the large number of sick people, he said.
The director of the rest home clarified that the establishment was closed to visitors and that “all the measures prescribed by the Flemish Health and Care Agency have been implemented”.
The municipality “must be put in lockdown complete and we must test everyone there ”, pleaded epidemiologist Yves Coppieters in the newspaper The evening. The British variant “has been there since December and we have the foundations for a third wave of contamination,” he warned.
Asked by the television channel La Une (RTBF), he considered that “if there is already a cluster of this intensity, there are surely others ”.
“Expand the testing”
The expert called on the authorities to “expand the testingIn the coming days. “Now, we must dare to test in a much broader way and play the game of much stricter isolation, otherwise we will not get away with a much more contaminating strain,” he warned.
A spokesperson for the Belgian health authorities, Yves Van Laethem, indicated on Friday that there were “several dozen [de cas] of English variants, several South African variants ”, and that“ other variants may appear ”.
“We currently know that with the Pfizer vaccine, the one used in the majority, we have protection against the English and South African variants”, he recalled.
Another Belgian expert, the virologist Marc Van Ranst, spoke on Friday of “about a hundred” identified cases of the various variants in the country, adding that it was necessary “to probably multiply this number by 100”.
Retirement homes have been hit very hard by the pandemic in Belgium. More than half of the COVID-19 deaths in the country are residents of these “nursing and care homes”, according to figures from the Institute of Public Health.
They are the priority audience for the vaccination campaign. As of January 13, this campaign had allowed vaccination coverage (for the first dose) of 17.26% of residents and staff of these establishments, according to official data.
The Belgian authorities had assured, on Saturday, that the delay in deliveries of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines would “have no impact” on the vaccination of this public.
The country experienced an excess mortality of + 16.6% in 2020, mainly due to this coronavirus epidemic.
Since the start of the epidemic, 677,209 cases of contamination have been identified and 20,396 people have died from the virus.