Belgium will tighten Covid-19 containment measures on July 25 after a rise in infections, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès said, requiring the use of face masks in crowded outdoor public spaces and tracing measures at restaurants and bars.
This comes about after the daily infection rate hit numbers not seen since mid-May with 32% of new cases being in the city of Antwerp.
The relatively small size of the country therefore, has forced the government to block plans to allow large gatherings as it has one of the world’s highest fatality rates per capita.
The government had initially eased the lockdown and had planned to loosen restrictions further on Thursday, but a series of localised outbreaks and a 91% spike in nationwide infections last week forced a turnaround.
“The latest figures should not throw us into panic but have to be taken seriously”, Wilmès told a news conference on Thursday.
Under the new measures, Belgians will have to wear a mask in public, including at outdoor markets, shopping streets and other crowded sites.
Tighter measures will also be imposed on bars and restaurants, where masks will become compulsory for those not seated.
Customers will also have to leave their contact details to facilitate tracing in case of localised outbreaks.
Night shops will have to close by 10 pm.
“Young adults between 20 and 30 are the most frequently affected. Although the number of infections is increasing throughout the country, we also see more local flare-ups”, Wilmès added.
With the holiday season in full flow, all returning travellers will need to fill an electronic form listing places they visited abroad before entering Belgium.
“It’s a blow to our morale but we must take action today so that we have no regrets tomorrow. We must act collectively. Everyone is an actor in this crisis”, said Wilmès.
Belgians will continue to be allowed to meet as many as 15 friends a week after the government decided against cutting the number to 10.
An easing of restrictions could be announced on September 1st potentially allowing a resumption of trade fairs.
“These rules are not advice but instructions. And as always, take care of yourself, and take care of others. And the best way to do that is by following the measures”, Wilmès concluded.
Source: Reuters London