Belgium is once again tightening its measures to stop the rising coronavirus infections, hospital admissions and deaths in the country, announced Prime Minister Alexander De Croo during a press conference on Friday.
"Our country is in the highest alert phase: Phase 4," said Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. "The number of infections is rising every day, and very rapidly. Our doctors and hospitals are under heavy pressure. We are fighting an unequal battle with this virus."
"Today, the difference with March-April is that the virus is very close now. We all know people who are infected, quarantined and sometimes severely ill," De Croo said. "We will not see any good news in the figures yet, over the next few days."
People will only be allowed to have one close contact, outside their own household.
Households can also invite up to 4 guests, always the same ones, changing every two weeks. For these guests, the distance rules have to be respected.
Teleworking where possible will be made mandatory again. Where this is not possible, everything has to be done to make sure people can work safely.
Across the entire country, bars and restaurants have to close for four weeks. After two weeks, the measure will be evaluated. Getting takeaway meals, however, will still be possible until 10:00 PM. Additionally, there will be a comprehensive support package for the businesses affected.
There will be a ban on selling alcohol after 8:00 PM.
A curfew will be implemented, prohibiting people from leaving their homes for non-essential reasons between midnight and 5:00 AM.
Food markets can stay open, following all measures that are already in force. Christmas markets, winter villages and flea markets, however, will not be possible.
At gatherings after funerals, up to 40 people are allowed to be present.
The government is taking a week to revise the protocols for sport and culture and adapt them to the current situation. The revision will be ready by next Friday. Until then, things can continue normally. For other indoor gatherings or events, that do not have a protocol, a maximum of 40 people are allowed.
These measures all come into force from Monday, said De Croo, "but nothing is stopping us from already starting to follow them now."
"Some will call these measures unfair. The virus is also unfair. It affects all of us, but most of all it affects the most vulnerable. That is why we must take these measures," said De Croo. "The next few weeks will be very difficult. But if we want to prevent worse, we must take action now."
"In March and April, us, Belgians, have shown that we can do this. That we can make these figures go down. And we can do it again, I am sure of it," he added.
"We must do everything we can to ensure that hospitals can continue to provide the right care for everyone," said Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke. "The children must be able to continue to go to school, the companies must be able to continue to operate, and people must not fall into isolation."
Additionally, the so-called "coronavirus barometer" to grade the epidemic situation in the country - which was supposed to be launched tonight - is not ready yet. "Today, we have reached agreement on the thresholds. But when we finalise them, it should also be clear what the consequences will be," Vandenbroucke said.
Maïthé Chini & Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times