By Yves Herman and Marine Strauss
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The Belgian government will convene on Friday to decide on a potential new national lockdown with the country now suffering the highest rate of coronavirus infections per 100,000 citizens, according to official data.
The nation of 11 million people had 1,390 new COVID-19 infections per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks, data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control showed on Tuesday.
The Czech Republic is next with 1,379 per 100,000, while many other European countries are reporting soaring infection rates in a second wave of the global pandemic abetted by the onset of cold, damp winter weather.
New daily infections in Belgium, where the European Union and NATO have their headquarters, hit a peak of more than 18,000 on Oct. 20, almost a 10-fold rise from the high of a spring wave of the pandemic.
The number of patients in intensive care units (ICUs) is doubling every eight days – to 809 as of Monday – with 5,260 people in hospitals, which risk running out of beds. Belgian foreign affairs minister and former PM Sophie Wilmes was still in intensive care in Brussels, after testing positive to COVID-19 last week.
In Liege, the Belgian city with the highest number of COVID-19 infections, hundreds of patients are admitted daily, its main hospital said in a Facebook post.
If the rate of hospitalisation continues at this rhythm, the hospital said it would head “straight into a wall,” according to the Facebook post.
“What’s complicated is that we constantly have to open new units, put in place new teams of nurses and doctors, to take care of those patients, and this flow of patients is in the end continuous,” Christelle Meuris, an infectious disease specialist who oversees a COVID-19 unit at the hospital, told Reuters.
With 10,899 total deaths, Belgium has one of the highest per capita COVID-19 fatality rates in the world.
The federal cabinet will meet on Friday to further tighten measures to curb COVID-19 contagion, a week after tightening curbs on social contacts by banning fans from sports matches and limiting numbers in cultural spaces.
The government of the Wallonia region imposed a longer night curfew while in the capital Brussels, all sport and cultural facilities were ordered on Saturday to close and residents were subjected to a longer curfew from Monday.
(Reporting by Yves Herman and Marine Strauss with additional reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.
Belgium will tighten coronavirus restrictions from Monday in an effort to hold the disease in check
The measures are set to enter force from Monday. The curfew will be enforced from midnight until 5:00 a.m. Alcohol sales will be banned after 8:00 p.m. The number of people that Belgians should see socially outside family members will be reduced from three to a maximum of just one — all month.
People have been ordered to work from home wherever possible.
Belgium, which has a population of around 11.5 million, is one of the European countries hardest hit by the disease. Almost 6,000 new cases were recorded each day on average over the last week. In all, about 192,000 people have contracted the disease and 10,327 have died.
“The number of confirmed cases is rising, every day, and not just by a few percentage points,” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told reporters in Brussels as he unveiled the new restrictions. “We can see that our hospitals and medical services are under tremendous pressure.”
“Thirty-five people died yesterday from the effects of COVID-19,” De Croo said, and he warned that the number of cases is likely to keep rising this week and next. “In the days to come, the news will be bad,” he said.
The country’s finance and employment ministries will launch a support plan to help keep restaurants and cafes afloat. They’ve been struggling to get back on their feet in recent months due to the impact of the virus. Earlier this month, bars and cafes in the capital Brussels were ordered to close early.
The impact of the closures will be reviewed in two weeks.
Yves Van Laethem, a spokesman for Belgium’s COVID-19 crisis center, said earlier Friday that “new measures are needed, because we see all the figures, all the data, mounting and all the indicators … remain in the red.”
Almost 2,000 people are currently in hospital due to the virus, more than 300 of them in intensive care. Around 180 are being admitted every day, on average.
Van Laethem urged people not to hit bars and night spots or gather in large groups for a final party.
He warned of the impact of such acts after Belgium first went into confinement in mid-March, saying that “this kind of behavior led to the infection spreading and quite a few people found themselves in hospital. So, please, avoid this kind of stupid behavior.”
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