In Belgium, a "trench warfare" against the virus

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Contaminations rising "exponentially", a "crying" lack of staff to the point that some work while being positive for COVID-19: concern is strong at the University Hospital of Liège, in eastern Belgium, facing the “Tsunami” looming.

On Wednesday, we almost reached the maximum number of cases of the first wave, notes Christelle Meuris, infectious disease specialist. But at the time, a notable difference, the Belgians had been confined for more than three weeks.

We fear that the latest measurements will be insufficient to flatten the curve. We see a tsunami coming, alarms the doctor at the head of a unit which accommodates 18 patients of the virus for 26 beds.

His fear? Having to go to two patients per room, a more difficult situation for both patients and staff.

Since Monday, cafes and restaurants have closed across the country and a curfew has been imposed from midnight to 5 a.m. These measures are clearly insufficient in the face of an extremely worrying situation, adds the infectious disease specialist, who points a collective failure.

With more than 270,000 cases of contamination and 10,500 deaths, Belgium (11.5 million inhabitants) is one of the European countries most affected by the virus in relation to its population. And the province of Liège became the hottest point in mid-October.

At the CHU, which has six COVID units, hospitalizations have climbed from 91 to 155 in one week.

Before entering a patient's room, a double-masked nurse puts on three gowns and two pairs of gloves, not to mention the glasses.

All gestures are calculated to move the patient, wash him, throw his sheet in a specific bag … We have to think all the time, pay attention to everything, explains Hendrika Abourou.

Some staff did not resist the first wave. They did not return to work at the hospital, others stopped practicing. As an aggravating factor, nursing training was extended from 3 to 4 years.

The shortage was already there before, but it is more and more glaring, because the staff is also impacted by COVID (…) while we will have to hold out for long months.

Christelle Meuris, infectious disease specialist at the CHU de Liège

Tested positive, Thomas, the nurse, continues to work

In the intensive care department, Thomas tested positive three weeks ago.

I don't have much choice. I didn't have a lot of symptoms. I informed my superior. He said to me: "we cannot replace you. We will have to come" (…). It is a difficult decision. Patients do not take time off, I also support my team. We are afraid of infecting the sick. We take even more precautions, confides the 33-year-old nurse.

In his 23-person unit, 4 positive people continued to work, according to the nurse.

Nothing surprising for Dr. Benoît Misset, head of intensive care.

If I'm a nurse or doctor and I'm sick, if I don't have muscle aches, if I'm not in bed, I just have to put on my mask. You have to work. If you have people with skills (…) I will not be watching, confides the French doctor.

We are overwhelmed, we are overwhelmed, we are also a little bitter since we had been expecting it for two months. The decisions were not taken on time. No one took the situation seriously. Politicians like the population.

Benoît Misset, head of intensive care at the CHU de Liège

A supporter of re-containment, he calls for more effective measures even if they will only take effect in a month or two.

For two days, the CHU began to transfer patients to other Belgian provinces and to Germany. And is moving towards the care of patients exclusively COVID-19, to the detriment of other pathologies.

Nearly 500 daily hospitalizations related to COVID-19, that's the equivalent from a hospital every day, exclaimed Friday the Minister of Health, Frank Vandenbroucke.

In the case of Liège, we are already in the process of closing half of the hospital to be able to recover staff for intensive care, explains Dr. Misset.

Now it's a trench war, with a difference: it's not bombs, it's a virus and it is he who decides, not us, not the politicians, not the scientists.

Also read:

  • Millions of Britons Get Tightened to Fight COVID-19
  • COVID-19: part of Europe barricades itself against the virus
  • Germany hopes for COVID-19 vaccine in early 2021

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