Belgium shut its bars and restaurants and imposed a midnight curfew for citizens on Monday as the country faced a “tsunami” of infections the government said was worse than anything seen in the spring.
“We are the most affected region in all of Europe. We are really close to a tsunami . . . that we no longer control what is happening. Today, we can still control what is happening, but with enormous difficulties and stress,” federal health minister Frank Vandenbroucke said.
“If it continues to increase, the number of hospitalisations will be such that we will have to postpone more and more non-Covid care, which is also very dangerous,” he added. “Message to the public: protect yourself, protect your loved ones, so as not to be contaminated.”
Under the new restrictions, alcohol may not be sold after 8pm, citizens are only allowed to have one close contact outside their own household, people must work from home where possible, and bars, restaurants and cafes will be shut for one month.
Home visits are allowed, but only for four chosen people per household, who must keep 1.5 metres apart and wear face masks.
The government says the rules must be adhered to to avoid even stricter measures, like those seen in spring, when citizens were only allowed to leave their homes for essential reasons.
Prime minister Alexander De Croo said the situation was more serious than in March, when the country introduced sweeping restrictions to bring down surging cases.
“The situation is serious. It is worse than on March 18th when the lockdown was decided,” Mr De Croo said.
Infections in Belgium have been running at 757 per 100,000 people on average over the last few weeks, the highest national rate in the European Union after the Czech Republic, in a country which has already experienced one of the highest death rates in the world.
An average of almost 8,000 people have tested positive per day for the last week – an 80 per cent increase on the week before – and in the capital Brussels, where the outbreak is concentrated, one in four tests is coming back positive.
The number of people in intensive care is doubling every eight to nine days, with the amount of patients admitted to hospital creeping up to more than half of the peak experienced in the spring.
The health ministry has predicted that the number of patients in intensive care will rise above 500 this week, and exceed 1,000 by the end of the month before the effect of the new restrictions may begin to be seen.
It comes as governments across Europe impose new restrictions to try to rein in the rate of infections, with Sweden allowing local authorities to introduce additional rules to cope with regional outbreaks, in a departure from its policy so far.
Though a resurgence has not yet taken hold in Sweden to the same extent as other European countries, the number of people in intensive care is rising and authorities have conceded that there is little sign of the population-level acquired immunity some had hoped for.