In Belgium, experts were calling for the “electroshock” of a re-containment in the face of a rapidly deteriorating health situation, but the government on Friday limited the new anti-COVID restrictions to sports and recreation, leaving businesses and schools open.
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The authorities of the five provinces of Wallonia, the French-speaking part, however decided Friday evening to toughen the measures decided at the federal level and the mayors of the 19 municipalities of Brussels will decide on Saturday whether they follow the movement. Belgium would then be divided in the fight against the pandemic.
A re-containment was demanded by several recognized virologists faced with the saturation of hospitals.
“My feeling is that we take risks, we had to send a much stronger electroshock,” said epidemiologist Simon Dellicour on the RTL-TVI channel.
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo spoke to the press of “a national crisis situation” in view of the latest figures, and in particular the milestone, crossed on Friday, of 10,000 new daily infections.
But this Flemish liberal stuck to the line expressed since he took office on October 1: “absolutely avoid a new confinement”, like the one that the Belgians experienced from mid-March to mid-May, and that Ireland or Wales re-imposed this week. The recession promises to be brutal for Belgium with a fall in GDP expected to -7.3% this year.
Of course, the care capacity must be safeguarded, and an additional quota of hospital beds in intensive care will be released, the Belgian government has promised, but it is also necessary to “preserve as much as possible” schools, businesses and the mental well-being of population.
“It is not the rules that will beat the virus, but all of us together (…) a united team of 11 million Belgians,” said De Croo.
The former Prime Minister in intensive care
On Monday, teleworking became the rule again in Belgium, a curfew was introduced between midnight and 5:00 a.m., and especially cafes and restaurants closed for four weeks.
Wallonia has tightened the curfew. It will come into force this Saturday from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. Campuses were also closed and visits to retirement homes were limited to one person, always the same.
“The situation is serious,” said Walloon Minister of Health Christie Morreale. Wallonia and Brussels are the two most affected regions in Europe and a shortage of personnel affects hospitals. A call was made on Friday to home nurses and medical students to come and lend a hand.
The government has promised an evaluation of the measures in two weeks, around the weekend of All Saints, before considering further restrictions on businesses.
For the moment, the new turn of the screw at the national level mainly concerns sports and leisure.
The professional competitions will take place again without an audience, starting this weekend. This concerns, among other things, the football championship and the end of the Antwerp tennis tournament.
In addition, amateur matches, all sports combined, are suspended until November 19, the deadline set for these new constraints.
Amusement parks are temporarily closed and in universities there may not be more than 20% of students in amphitheatres, except in the 1st year.
On the other hand, the schools remain open.
Belgium, which has an average incidence of around 620 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 inhabitants, is preceded only within the EU by the Czech Republic (668), where a partial containment was decided on Thursday for twelve days.
As of Friday, the kingdom had 270,132 infected people and 10,588 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the Sciensano health institute.
There have been an average of 10,453 new infections each day during the past week, and the country on Friday was close to 500 hospitalizations per day, a level not reached since the first week of April.
The head of diplomacy and ex-Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès, 45, is among the 573 patients in intensive care identified.