By Clement Rossignol and Christian Levaux
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgian hospitals are stockpiling drugs and protective kits and putting in place contingency plans amid a continuing spike in new COVID-19 infections that has forced the capital Brussels to make face masks compulsory in public spaces.
With nearly 10,000 deaths linked to the coronavirus so far, Belgium with a population of 11 million has one of the world's highest death rates from COVID-19 per head.
New infections have risen steadily in recent weeks, with Belgium now reporting one of the highest number of cases per inhabitants of any European country and prompting fears of a second wave.
In March and April when the pandemic accelerated, Belgian hospitals struggled with a shortage of equipment and with administrative hurdles.
They have learned their lesson since then, said chief physician Michel Dewever at the Delta Hospital in Brussels, which has 500 doctors and 500 beds and is part of the Chirec Hospital Group.
"We have stocked up on curare, anesthetics and antibiotics that allow us to last for two or three months during any second wave that might arise," he said.
"We have built up a stock of protective equipment for all the staff, whether it be gloves, gowns or masks. We received part of this inventory from the government. We also bought part of it," Dewever said.
The Group has amassed 20,000 masks, 700,000 gloves, 50,000 single use aprons and 5,000 reusable aprons.
Delta Hospital's contingency plan includes making more beds in the intensive care unit available for COVID-19 patients.
(Writing by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Gareth Jones)