Belgium orders national lockdown as health system nears collapse under strain of coronavirus

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A national coronavirus lockdown has been imposed in Belgium due to a drastic rise in cases, following similar measures in neighbouring France and Germany.

The Belgian government announced restrictions on public life on Friday as it seeks to control the growth of the pandemic.

Under the rules all non-essential businesses will close for six weeks from Monday, with supermarkets only allowed to sell essential items.

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Remote working and an overnight curfew will be enforced, while social gatherings will be restricted until mid-December. A planned one-week school holiday will be extended to a fortnight.

Health system at breaking point

The measures come amid fears that the country’s health service could face breaking point, with some patients already transferred to Germany to treatment due to capacity.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said: “Our country is in a health emergency. The pressure on hospitals is immense, our care providers are making inhuman efforts.”

Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo declared a national lockdown (Photo: Sebastien Pirlet/Pool via Reuters)

He added: “We are going towards a reinforced confinement with only one goal: avoiding that health care services collapse.

“It is now in our hands, it is in your hands. These really are the last-chance measures and it is up to all of us to make sure that these measures produce a result.”

Worst in Europe

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control on Friday ranked Belgium as the worst affected nation in the EU, with 1,600 cases per 100,000 people. Hotspots like Spain and Italy have less than a third of that total, highlighting how acute the crisis is.

France, with proportionally fewer than half the cases, announced a second nationwide lockdown on Wednesday.

As of Friday, 6,187 people are currently in hospital with coronavirus in Belgium, a nation of 11.5 million, surpassing the record peak from the spring.

Patients in intensive care units reached 1,057 from 993 the day earlier, and virologists have warned that unless tougher measures have a quick impact the maximum capacity of 2,000 patients will be reached next week.

Additional reporting by agencies