(Bloomberg) -- The explosive growth in Covid-19 cases in Belgium, which has one of the highest infection rates in Western Europe, appears to be easing, but government experts say some of the restrictive measures imposed recently will likely need to be extended. 

“It is starting to slow down for the moment,” Steven Van Gucht, head of the viral disease division at the Sciensano national public-health institute, said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “Looking at the infections, it might stabilize this week.”

Belgium, where the daily average of new cases spiked to 17,796 over the past seven days, has seen very high per-capita case rates and hospitalizations have increased significantly. 

The government last week ordered a second set of measures to combat the rise, including a closure of nightclubs and restrictions on privately organized parties. It has also confirmed a case of the new omicron variant, which has prompted the European Union to suspend air travel from South Africa and six other countries in the region.

The cases are particularly high in the Dutch-speaking area of Flanders, which has the country’s highest vaccination rate of 80%, according to Sciensano data. Those high vaccination rates, which halved the chance of people being infected, also led Belgians in those areas to double their contacts with other people, helping produce the spike in cases, Van Gucht said.

“We went a bit too fast and I think that caused an exponential increase, also with the seasonal effect,” he said. “We are starting to see the impact of the measures now, but there is still a long way to go.” 

He said he hopes that tougher measures could be avoided, but wearing masks indoors should continue during the winter. Other steps, like closing bars early, may be reviewed if the situation improves. 

The omicron variant needs to be studied more, he added, saying that “we still have to learn about the protection by previous vaccination or previous infection with other variants.”

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