Belgium suspends reopening plans as viral infections increase
BRUSSELS (AP) – Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Friday the country faced “crucial weeks” as the number of coronavirus infections soared, and the government decided to suspend plans to gradually ease restrictions.
The compulsory wearing of the mask outside, the night curfews and the closure of restaurants and bars have been in place since the beginning of November. A ban on non-essential travel is also in effect. The plan was to offer some relief to long-suffering citizens by resuming some outdoor activities from April 1.
“We are pressing the pause button,” De Croo told reporters.
Earlier Friday, health officials said the number of new confirmed daily infections had increased by a third in the past seven days, to an average of 3,226. Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 also increased by 27% over the same period.
Virologist Yves Van Laethem has warned that the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care beds could reach a critical level by April 10 if the rate of infections does not slow down.
De Croo said most of the new cases are found in schools and in the workplace. The number of elderly people catching or dying from the virus is decreasing as the Belgian vaccination program begins.
“We have a month to limit social contact as much as possible so that schools can reopen normally on April 19,” after the Easter holidays, De Croo said. He said the travel ban would also remain in effect until at least the same date.
Van Laethem said earlier that Belgium is “at the foot of a third wave of infections” but people can help turn it into a “mini-wave” by playing by the rules.
A total of 22,624 people have died from coronavirus-related causes in Belgium, a country of 11.5 million people that was among the hardest hit in the world when the pandemic broke. So far, around 7.5% of the population has received a first vaccine against the coronavirus.
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