Belgian COVID cases climb as government mulls lockdown

FILE PHOTO: Medical personnel wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) arrive at the emergency unit of the CHU Dinant-Godinne hospital with a patient on a stretcher, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Mont-Godinne, Belgium October 28, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgium, one of worst affected European countries by the new coronavirus, recorded an average of 15,316 new infections per day in mid-October, health officials said on Friday, hours before the government was due to consider a lockdown.

Home to the headquarters of the European Union and NATO, Belgium has one of the world’s highest fatality figures per capita from the virus and now, in the second wave, has one of the highest per capita rates of COVID-19 infections.

“We see no favourable change for the moment,” health ministry spokesman Yves Van Laethem told a news conference.

The 38% increase in confirmed cases for the Oct. 20-26 period compared to the previous week takes the total number of infections since the beginning of the outbreak to 392,258 in the country of 11 million people, according to data from the Sciensano health institute.

After implementing a night curfew, closing bars, restaurants, gyms and cultural spaces, Belgium’s federal government is set to decide on Friday whether to implement a nationwide lockdown following a similar move by France to try to contain the epidemic.

Hospital admissions in Belgium dipped slightly on Thursday to 673, from 743 patients hospitalised with the virus the day before, but the level is still above the peak of the first wave, Sciensano figures showed.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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The Latest: Belgian Foreign Minister in Intensive Care | World News

BRUSSELS — Belgian Foreign Minister and former Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes has been hospitalized in intensive care with the coronavirus.

Wilmes, who was in charge when the first wave of infections hit the country this spring, now serves in the new government led by Alexander De Croo.

Elke Pattyn, a spokesperson at the Foreign Ministry, told The Associated Press that Wilmes is in a stable condition and conscious. She said her condition “is not worrying.”

The 45-year-old Wilmes, who was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday evening, said last week she thought she got infected within her family circle.

Belgium, a country of 11.5 million inhabitants, has been severely hit by the coronavirus and is currently seeing a sharp rise in new cases. More than 10,000 people have died from coronavirus-related complications in Belgium

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Regulators, experts take up thorny vaccine study issues

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— Virus spikes have officials looking to shore up hospitals

— Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has overruled his own health minister on the announced purchase of 46 million doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine being tested in Sao Paulo state.

— Ireland is already focused on Christmas. It’s a major national priority. Unless the country can get the COVID-19 epidemic under control, there won’t be much Christmas cheer this year in Galway, Cork or Dublin.

— Poland’s prime minister has signaled that the whole country faces being placed on the highest restriction level short of a full lockdown, as health authorities registered a record in new confirmed COVID-19 infections.

Follow all of AP’s coronavirus pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

LONDON — U.K. Treasury chief Rishi Sunak is expected to announce increased help for bars, pubs and restaurants that have seen business collapse because of COVID-19 controls.

Hospitality businesses are under pressure because the measures severely limit social gatherings, even under the lower levels of restrictions imposed on areas with less severe outbreaks. That reduces the number of people who go out for dinner or to meet up with friends, reducing income and forcing employers to lay off workers.

But most can’t take advantage of current government aid programs, which are focused on businesses that are ordered to close under the highest level of restrictions.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street told the BBC that the support programs were designed with the assumption that the pandemic would ease, reducing the need for government assistance. That didn’t happen and infection rates are now rising across the country.

The government “didn’t expect us to be in a position through the autumn where we were having a rising level of the virus to this extent, so if you look at the design of the winter economy package, at the time that seemed rational but clearly events have moved very quickly.”

BUDAPEST — The number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Hungary has risen above 2,000 for the

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