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New coronavirus restrictions: No school next week, non-essential shops by appointment only
Belgium has ordered non-essential shops to operate by appointment only for a month from Saturday, closing contact professions such as hairdressers and telling school pupils to stay at home next week, with the exception of nursery schools.
Outdoor gatherings, which have been allowed in groups of up to 10 for the past two weeks, will now be limited again to just four people.
The coronavirus consultative committee met on Wednesday, just five days after its last meeting, in the face of growing numbers of coronavirus infections and hospital admissions.
Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo said the committee had opted for an "Easter pause" - a four-week set of restrictions with a view to bringing infection numbers down.
"The British variant of coronavirus has become dominant," said Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo. "Intensive care units do not know how much longer they can keep going. The nature of the virus has changed."
He added: "It's difficult to make decisions like this, but if we don't, the consequences will be even more serious."
All primary and secondary schools will break up for the Easter holidays a week early, this Friday (26 March), with the goal of resuming face-to-face lessons for all age groups from 19 April. Initially it was reported that distance learning would be required next week - but instead it appears that no lessons will be given at all. However, exams scheduled for next week will still go ahead. Nursery schools remain open.
Contact professions, such as hairdressers and beauty salons - which only reopened earlier this month - will have to close again from 27 March to 25 April.
Non-essential stores can remain open for this period, but only by appointment and for "click and collect" services. Shopping should be done alone, or with two people living under the same roof.
The late-night curfew (22.00-6.00 in Brussels, 0.00-5.00 elsewhere) remains unchanged, as does the requirement to work from home and the ban on non-essential travel, with increased border controls during the Easter holidays.
"In the last 17 weeks we have worked together to ensure the third wave does not happen," De Croo said. "I'm convinced that we'll send the third wave packing.
"It's natural for us to want to plan things and work out what we can do in the future. The virus makes this planning difficult. But the goal remains the same: to have an enjoyable summer, and that is within our reach."