Belgium’s prime minister on Monday unveiled a set of drastic social distancing measures aimed at avoiding a new general lockdown amid a surge of COVID-19 infections.
Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said that from next Wednesday contacts outside family circles will be limited to the same five people over the next four weeks. Belgian residents are currently allowed to meet with 15 different people. The measures don’t apply to children under the age of 12.
“Our aim is clear—avoid another full lockdown,” Wilmes said after a meeting of the national security council.
Wilmes said that the new measures—which also include lowering crowd limits at public events to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors—could be sufficient to avoid further restrictions and to ensure children can return to school en masse in September, after the summer break.
Wilmes exhorted people to get back to working remotely when possible, “one of the keys for a successful deconfinement.” She added that shoppers should run errands alone from now on and limit the time they spend in stores to 30 minutes.
“However, the most important approach is the individual one,” she said. “If we cannot contain the coronavirus, it will be a collective failure.”
After a sharp decline of infections, Belgium has witnessed a surge in the number of confirmed cases over the past three weeks. According to figures released Monday, the number of confirmed cases rose 71% from July 17-23 compared to the previous 7 days, with 47% of the cases detected in Antwerp province.
The number of cases also increased greatly in the rest of the county, with an average of 279 new daily cases anda 30% rise in the number of people admitted to hospital.
Wilmes called on local authorities to take strong additional measures if the health situation deteriorates in their cities.
“The urgency of the situation in Antwerp demands and requires strong measures to be taken quickly,” she said.
Meanwhile, Brussels mayor Philippe Close announced the cancelation of the 140th edition of the city’s annual summer funfair, saying it was impossible for the popular event to take place on account of the latest sanitary guidelines.
Belgium, a country with 11.5 million inhabitants, has been particularly hard hit by the virus, with more than 66,000 cases and 9,821 deaths. The government had already tightened restrictions last week, making the use of face masks mandatory in crowded outdoor spaces while requiring bar and restaurant owners to register contact details of customers.