Belgium fears ICU beds may run out as COVID cases soar

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgian hospitals could run out of intensive care unit (ICU) beds by the middle of next month if the new COVID-19 wave continues at its current rate, an official said on Wednesday.

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The nation of 11 million people has Europe’s second highest infection rate per capita after the Czech Republic, with new case doubling every seven days and hitting a peak of 7,000 on Oct. 9, more than during the peak in March and April.

The number of patients in ICUs is doubling every twelve days - to 281 as of Tuesday - and hospitals in Brussels have been ordered to reserve 50% of beds for coronavirus patients.

Health Ministry spokesman Yves Van Laethem told a news conference Belgium’s maximum capacity of 2,000 ICU beds might be reached by mid-November if the increases continues.

“This scenario must be absolutely avoided,” he said.

“There is no need to panic. We are not in the same situation that we went through in March and April: we know the virus better and we know what needs to be done to control it - but we must do it.”

COVID-19 has claimed 10,244 lives in Belgium, one of the highest per capita fatality rates in the world.

Brussels, which houses European Union institutions and the headquarters for Western military alliance NATO, is seeing 20% of tests return positive.

However, the increase of recorded cases has been less rapid in the capital than elsewhere, because of either stricter measures or because test centres are at full capacity.

The federal government will meet on Oct. 16 to decide on additional restrictive measures.

Reporting by Marine Strauss ; Editing by John Chalmers and Andrew Cawthorne