Belgium tightens restrictions, but avoids lockdown as COVID cases peak

BRUSSELS, December 3 (Reuters) – Belgium on Friday tightened its coronavirus restrictions for the third week in a row to tackle one of the worst spikes in COVID-19 cases in Europe, but stopped before the strict restrictions imposed in neighboring Netherlands or Austria.

“We cannot allow the train of infection which is raging in our country to continue at its current rate,” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said at a press conference.

With cases among children increasing the most, De Croo said mask warrants would apply from age six. Wearing a mask is currently compulsory for people aged 10 and over.

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Primary schools will close for the Christmas and New Years holidays a week earlier and high schools will switch to a hybrid system, with half of the classes at home.

On the other hand, bars and restaurants in Belgium, seat of the EU and NATO institutions, will still be able to open until 11 p.m., six hours later than in the Netherlands.

De Croo acknowledged that Belgium’s infection rate was among the highest in Europe. Only Slovakia and the Czech Republic have higher 14-day average per capita rates, according to data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

However, although more than one in 50 people have been infected in the past two weeks, the death rate is only just above the EU average.

“There is only one reason for this and that is that the vaccination rate in our country is particularly high,” said De Croo, adding that around 4 million Belgians are expected to have received booster doses. by the end of the year.

Experts from the health agency Sciensano said Belgium appeared to have reached a peak in infections and hospitalizations, although the number of patients in intensive care could reach 1,000 in a week.

“It is not clear whether after that we can expect a big drop or whether we will just stay on a high plateau,” said virologist Steven Van Gucht.

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Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop Editing by John Chalmers, Kirsten Donovan

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Carol N. Valencia