Belgium is introducing a coronavirus barometer to gauge the seriousness of the crisis, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Friday.
At a press conference, De Croo said the Omicron variant “is true to its reputation. It’s not a wave, but a real tsunami.” But he added that “there is good news, Omicron is making people less sick. First of all because more and more Belgians are being vaccinated or have been infected.”
The barometer, which will come into force next Friday, will be a color-coded system and allow authorities to link COVID-19 measures to hospitalization numbers and ICU capacity.
The country will start on Code Red, which is in force when the health system is facing a severe threat (150 new daily hospitalizations and ICU bed occupancy of more than 500); Code Orange is for when the health system is under pressure (65-149 new daily hospitalizations, ICU bed occupancy of 300-500); and Code Yellow is for when hospitals are under less strain (fewer than 65 new daily hospitalizations, ICU bed occupancy of fewer than 300).
The barometer “will help in decision-making, but the Consultative Committee will decide which code level we are in and what measures will come into effect based on it,” said De Croo.
“The Consultative Committee can choose to stop using the barometer for a period of time and then reactivate it,” said the country’s COVID-19 commissioner Pedro Facon. “It is also up to the decision-makers to choose whether or not to follow the barometer to the letter.”
De Croo also announced that as of January 28, bars and restaurants will be allowed to stay open until midnight as opposed to 11 p.m. Nightclubs will remain closed. Public venues such as cultural centers will be allowed to have up to 200 visitors as long as they have a health pass. Sports stadiums will be allowed to host outdoor events.
As of March 1, a booster shot will be required for people to retain a valid health pass, if their second dose was more than five months ago.
Belgium reported a steady increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in January, according to the country’s health institute, with more than 30,000 daily cases between January 11 and 17, and 255 daily hospitalizations between January 14 and 20.
Steven Van Gucht, a virologist from the institute, said in a press conference Friday morning he expects a peak in hospitalizations “at the end of January or beginning of February.”
The Consultative Committee will reassess the barometer’s code on February 7.