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Coronavirus in Belgium: The latest developments
What's the latest?
Two groups of business owners in Antwerp province have filed complaints with the Council of State against the curfew introduced to slow the spread of the coronavirus. They claim the measure is unconstitutional. Under the curfew, no-one is allowed out between 23.30 and 6.00, except for essential journeys such as going to work or to hospital. Bars and restaurants across the province must close by 23.00, and the measure will be in place until at least the end of August, across the entire province. One of the groups consists of bar and restaurant owners in Bonheiden, which borders Flemish Brabant. Rural municipalities and areas with very few coronavirus infections are particularly unhappy about the measure. Owners of bars and restaurants say they are losing business to establishments over the provincial border, which are not faced with the same restrictions.
The Brussels region has seen a 150% increase in confirmed coronavirus infections in the past week, public health institute Sciensano said on Friday. Meanwhile, in Antwerp province, the weekly increase is just 10% - likely due to the latest restrictions including a curfew and compulsory masks in all places. "The rise in infections is not solely due to the increase in the number of tests," explained interfederal spokesman Steven Van Gucht on Firday. "The virus is just as dangerous as it was in March." His colleague Frédérique Jacobs added: "At the national level, contamination has slowed down. It is highly variable depending on the region." Sciensano's daily coronavirus stats will, from today, include a breakdown by province.
Supermarket chain Aldi will install an automatic counting system in all of its 450 Belgian stores, with traffic lights at the entrance telling customers when the store is too busy to enter. "A customer will see a green or red screen when entering the supermarketn," said sales director Koen Piessens. During the first few days, a security guard will ensure the traffic light system is respected.
The Brussels-Midi police zone, which covers Anderlecht, Saint-Gilles and Forest, has shut down 29 pubs and restaurants, mostly for failing to respect the 1.00 closing time. Some 73 people were fined for not wearing a mask last weekend. "This new phase will be more repressive this time," the police force added.
Access to the popular Lacs de l'Eau d'Heure could be restricted if visitors continue to ignore the requirement to wear a mask, local mayor Alain Vandromme has warned. "I hope that the authorities will support me and we can find a solution together so that everyone who comes the lake respects the rules," he said. "The only thing we can do is to close the main roads - but I hope it will not come to that." Vandromme said there was a shortage of local police officers enforcing the rules. Federal police have been called in as a reinforcement, but they will only issue warnings, not fines.
The United Kingdom will require anyone entering the country from Belgium to self-isolate for 14 days, starting this Saturday (8 August). Belgium joins Spain, Luxembourg, the Bahamas and Andorra on the UK's list of countries requiring quarantine.
Ostend's beach reservation system is back up and running from 6-9 August, as good weather is forecast again. There are 15,000 slots available per day. Book via Ostend tourist office or call 0800 62 167.
Antwerp's vast drive-in coronavirus testing centre opened for the first time on Thursday. It has the capacity to carry out 4,000 tests per day. On day one, 117 people used it. Antwerp residents who wish to use the testing centre must first register online, and then receive a QR code on their phone to be scanned on arrival.
About 200 employees at an abattoir in West Flanders have been sent home and told to self-isolate after a local coronavirus "cluster" emerged at the factory. At least 50 workers at the Westvlees slaughterhouse in Staden have tested positive. The mayor of Staden has made masks compulsory in all public places.
The Brussels region will make mask-wearing compulsory in all public areas when/if the coronavirus stats in the capital exceed 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants per week, minister-president Rudi Vervoort has announced. The latest stats from Sciensano show the Brussels region is currently at 38 cases per 100,000.
The regional security council met on Thursday morning, after hearing yesterday from medical experts about the increase in coronavirus infections in the capital. The council has ruled out an late-night curfew such as in Antwerp, but police will reinforce their checks and boost awareness among some communities. The rules have been translated into 33 languages, and a campaign specifically targeting 14-25 year-olds has been launched.
"This increase is not specific to Brussels," minister-president Rudi Vervoort said. "We need to act sufficiently early to avoid having to take drastic measures. No one wants another lockdown. We see crowded terraces where no one is respecting the rules. This cannot be tolerated. Cafe and restaurant owners must take responsibility. Mayors will be taking sanctions and closing establishments. You must respect the rules."
Only two of Brussels' 19 municipalities - Woluwe-Saint-Pierre and Watermael-Boitsfort - remain below the "alarm threshold" of 20 coronavirus infections per 100,000 inhabitants. Saint-Gilles has the highest number (68), followed by Saint-Josse (55), Ganshoren (48), Jette (46), Schaerbeek and Forest (both 43).
The next few days will be hot - up to 37°C on Saturday. Crisis centre spokesman Antoine Isieux said on Wednesday: "Even during a heatwave we cannot ignore the virus. In the next few days we must adapt our behaviour to the heat and the presence of the virus, such as continuing to wear a mask. It remains unseful. To avoid the unpleasant 'heat and mask' mix, we recommend that you go out early in the morning or later in the day." Interfederal spokeswoman Frédérique Jacobs says you should only use a fan when at home "and with people who are not known to be positive for the coronavirus". Air conditioning poses no risk because the air is renewed, she said.
The governor of Antwerp province, Cathy Berx, has allowed fitness centres to reopen.
The mayor of Verviers, Muriel Targnion, is planning a tougher stance on applying the coronavirus rules - focusing on the youth and people of foreign origin. She said young people had "too much confidence in their invincibility" and the town would carry out a new awareness-building campaign among the younger generation. Targnion said some foreign communities within the city "have not understood the messages and obligations, especially those relating to strict compliance with barrier gestures". She said the message had to "successfully cross the barriers of different languages and cultures". The city will make contact the heads of local associations and mosques to raise awareness among the international community.
Liège biotech firm ZenTech is suing the Belgian state, claiming it has not been paid on time for more than a million coronavirus antibody tests. The government placed an order for 3.65 million serological tests in April. ZenTech says its numerous attempts to make contact with officials had been ignored, until early July when the firm was reportedly asked to negotiate a "downward revision" of the deal. ZenTech said it had spent €4 million honouring its side of the contract - and that 1.2 million tests had already been produced and are still pending payment.
By Monday morning, the Belgian government had received more than 200,000 Passenger Locator Forms from travellers returning to the country from holiday. The form became compulsory on Saturday. Between 1,500 and 2,000 people per day are returning from "red zones", requiring a compulsory 14-day quarantine and two coronavirus tests, nine days apart. Between 7,000 and 9,000 people per day are coming back from "orange zones", where quarantine is recommended but not compulsory.
Thousands of daytrippers found themselves packed in to Ostend rail station on Friday evening because of a broken-down train between the coast and Bruges. Photos and videos on social media show crowds of people on the station concourse, held behind security barriers and unable to maintain safe distances. "This kind of situation ruins all the security and organisational efforts undertaken by the city," mayor Bart Tommelein said. "If we are able to manage 15,000 people on our beaches, the SNCB must be able to develop an effective system." Until such a plan is in place, Tommelein does not want the SNCB to run any extra services to the coast this summer. But the SNCB says: "We are not deploying additional trains to the coast to attract more passengers but to make the journeys safer for the passengers going to the sea. As long as people want to go there because of the good weather, we will have to react. It is SNCB's job to get people to their destination safely, not to decide who is or is not allowed to take the train to the coast. The authorities must make a clear decision in this topic." A meeting will be called between the SNCB, Ostend city council and the local police force to discuss what happened and how it can be avoided again.
Coronavirus testing capacity will increase by 69% from this week, Brussels health minister Alain Maron has announced. Labs will have extended opening hours, particularly at weekends. If you need to take a coronavirus test before going on holiday, this PDF document has a list of all the testing centres in Brussels, which are open by appointment only.
It's going to be a "difficult few weeks and months", virologist Emmanuel André has warned. "If there is a critical situation in one area of our country, we must prevent people moving from high-risk to low-risk areas. It is absolutely necessary to stop the phenomenon in Antwerp from spreading across the whole of the country and in other neighbouring countries. For the other outbreaks which will emerge, it will be necessary to limit them as quickly as possible."
Latest trends - Sunday 9 August
Over the past seven days
- Average daily infections: 564.4 (+19%/week)
- Total infections: 73,401
- Average daily deaths: 3.4 (+33%)
- Total deaths: 9,870
- Average daily hospital admissions: 27.3 (+20%)
- In hospital: 281 (+8%)
- In intensive care: 69 (+23%)