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Coronavirus: 'Disproportionate' measures in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert 'will cause panic and anxiety'
The Brussels commune of Woluwe-Saint-Lambert has banned anyone who has recently travelled in a coronavirus-affected area from accessing local schools and other municipal buildings.
The measure has been condemned as "totally disproportionate" by Belgium's federal health minister Maggie De Block. It comes after two new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Belgium on Sunday and Monday.
The ban prompted Brussels minister-president Rudi Vervoort to call a meeting of the region's 19 municipal mayors on Monday to discuss a coordinated approach to the outbreak.
Woluwe-Saint-Lambert issued a police order on Sunday prohibiting people from accessing local public buildings - including schools, care homes, libraries and the town hall - if they had returned from a high-risk area in the past two weeks. The areas are China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Macao, Singapore, South Korea, Iran and northern Italy.
Local mayor Olivier Maingain (pictured) said there was "legitimate concern" among school teachers and other municipal workers about the possible spread of the virus.
He said the ban was "obviously on a voluntary basis", adding: "People must be responsible and act in good faith - as is done in neighbouring countries - and declare that they are back from these regions."
Federal health minister Maggie De Block said the announcement in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert was a form of "political activism".
The mayor of Etterbeek, Vincent De Wolf, said: "This decree will cause panic and anxiety among residents. Coronavirus is a national and global public health problem - making an order at municipal level is preposterous."
Belgian authorities have announced two new cases of coronavirus in recent days.
A woman, who had recently returned from a business trip in northern France, is being treated at Antwerp university hospital. She is said to have mild symptoms - a fever, sore throat and slight difficulty breathing - but is otherwise in good health.
The other case is in Brussels. The patient had been travelling in a risk area and, after a consultation at Saint-Pierre hospital, has been sent home to remain in isolation.
Belgium has moved to phase two - of three - in its coronavirus response plan. Under phase two, any infected patient is quarantined in hospital. The people with whom they have had close contact are tested.
Phase three (outbreak) would mean people are regularly testing positive for the coronavirus, which is not yet the case in Belgium.
De Block said in a statement on Sunday night: "In recent weeks, the different levels of power in Belgium have collaborated well. More than ever, this intense collaboration must continue. Everyone has a role to play in fighting the spread of the virus."
She added: "We can only insist on basic hygiene measures, such as washing your hands regularly, using tissues and putting them immediately the bin, coughing into your elbow instead of putting your hand in front of your mouth."
Anyone concerned about possible symptoms should phone their GP - not go to the surgery waiting room or A&E department in person.
Photo: Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga