Belgian ambulance crews say they risk being overwhelmed by COVID

BRUSSELS/PERONNES-LEZ-BINCHE, Belgium (Reuters) – Belgian ambulance crews say they are at risk of being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, running out of capacity to handle other calls.

One ambulance company, NAAB Ambulance Services, said COVID cases now make up more than 70% of its callouts, having risen from just 10% at the start of October.

Dressed in a full white hazmat suit and wearing a protective face mask, one of its paramedics, Jessy Friant, said it was becoming difficult to cope with the workload.

“The number of COVID-19 patients transported every day is around 30 to 40, it’s a 70% increase of our activity,” Friant told Reuters in Peronnes-lez-Binche near the French border.

In a statement, the company’s CEO, Arnaud Franchini, called for stronger nationwide measures to curb the spread of the virus.

“Without much stronger measures than those currently in place, we are going straight into a wall,” Franchini said.

Belgium is experiencing a second wave of infections after a first wave that led to one of the world’s highest per capita death tolls.

With the country running short of medical staff, the main public health body, the Sciensano institute, said on its website some health workers could be kept at work even if they test positive, treating only patients who are already infected.

“You would think it is clear to everyone that the situation is dire,” health ministry spokesman Antoine Iseux told a news conference on Wednesday.

“And yet some question the gravity of the situation or take it lightly and ignore health measures, people who prioritise their individualism over public health. We have a message for them: selfishness is the ally of the virus,” he said.

Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes, who was admitted to intensive care last week with COVID-19, said on Twitter she was now out of the ICU and recovering in a different part of the hospital.

The federal cabinet will meet on Friday to further tighten measures to curb COVID-19 contagion, a week after banning fans from sports matches and limiting numbers in cultural spaces.

Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine, Yves Herman; Editing by Peter Graff