Belgium tightened its coronavirus rules Friday as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations soar despite new measures brought in this week.
“The number of occupied beds in intensive care has doubled in one week. The red line has been crossed and that is of course very worrying,” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said at a press conference, adding: “The analysis we drew yesterday is much worse than the worst-case scenario established by the experts.”
The government will speed up the COVID booster shot rollout, with teachers given priority. “If we didn’t have the vaccine the situation would have been much more dramatic. But despite this, the situation in health care is not sustainable,” said De Croo.
Health ministers from across the country will meet on Saturday to discuss the timeline for the booster shot rollout.
“Our mission is very clear: we need to take action to reduce pressure in health care,” said De Croo, emphasizing the need to respect social distancing measures.
New testing centers will be opened and from December 2, a new website will serve as a substitute for the overwhelmed contact-and-tracing service
Working from home will be compulsory four days a week until December 19 — as opposed to December 12. From December 20, teleworking will be compulsory three days a week.
The obligation to wear a mask will be expanded, including in schools, for children aged 10 and above. If two cases are detected in a class, all high-risk pupils must be tested. If there are three cases, classes could go into self-isolation.
Mixing of school classes should be avoided as much as possible, with extracurricular school activities forbidden.
In the hospitality industry, an 11 p.m. curfew will be imposed on restaurants. A maximum of six people will be allowed per table, unless they are members of the same household. Christmas markets will also have to close at 11 p.m.
Public venues such as nightclubs, bars and concerts venues where social distancing can’t be respected are required to close for the next four weeks, from this Saturday until December 15.
Private parties will be prohibited, except for weddings and funerals. A COVID pass will be required for events attended by at least 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors. Supporters won’t be allowed in outdoor sports venues, except for parents of children under 18.
On Wednesday, all 10 provincial governors called on the Consultative Committee, which decides on the measures, to meet earlier than scheduled as they consider the current ones are “insufficient and lack coherence.”
Belgian hospitals received an average of 303 COVID-19 patients per day between November 19-25, according to the national health institute. Some 669 COVID-19 patients are in intensive care.
The Consultative Committee will reconvene on December 15.