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Belgian city of Antwerp implements nighttime curfew as Covid-19 cases surge

There have been 1,952 new infections over the past week in Belgium.

Shoppers stroll in a commercial area of Antwerp, Belgium
Shoppers stroll in a commercial area of Antwerp, Belgium
Image: Utrecht Robin/ABACA via PA Images

BELGIUM’S SECOND CITY Antwerp has announced a nighttime curfew as the country toughened social-distancing and mask wearing rules to stem a flare-up in coronavirus cases.

In the city, a major business hub and sea port, bars and restaurants will close at 11pm and citizens will be obliged to get home by 11.30pm and to stay there until 6am.

Everyone over 12 years old will have to wear a face mask in public places and crowded areas, contact and adult team sports will be banned and teleworking will be compulsory for anyone whose employment allows it.

Antwerp governor Cathy Berx said in a statement that the situation in her city was such that she had decided to supplement the measures already taken on a national level.

“Stay at home as much as possible,” she said, urging outsiders not to make non-essential visits to Antwerp and young people to stay indoors.

Do not go out to party, do not endanger yourself and others.

Earlier, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes ordered that, from tomorrow, Belgians would be allowed to see a maximum of five people outside of their families, reducing their “social bubble” from 15.

Working from home will be “strongly recommended”.

Belgian health officials said there had been a rapid rise in coronavirus cases, with 1,952 new infections over the past week, up more than 70% on the previous week.

“The epidemiological data are worrying and we are very worried, that’s why we are acting today,” Wilmes told reporters, after a meeting of the country’s national security council.

In addition, face masks are to become compulsory whenever people are unable to maintain a social distance of 1.5 metres, and the government is “strongly recommending” that people work from home.

Belgium had begun to ease anti-virus measures, but Wilmes said the new rules were needed “to avoid a new complete lockdown and to avoid putting the return of schools in September in jeopardy”.

‘Rapid growth’

Frederique Jacobs, professor of infectious diseases and a spokeswoman for Belgium’s federal COVID-19 taskforce, told reporters: “The rapid growth in the number of cases is worrying.” 

She said the situation was particularly serious in the province of Antwerp, in northern Belgium, which recorded 47% of new infections in the last week. 

Special local measures have been taken to try to contain the spike.

But Jacobs warned that “the number of infections is also rising considerably in the rest of the country”.

An average of 279 people a day contracted Covid-19 in the last week, compared with 163 a day the week before.

“Most infections are still coming among the active population, that is to say people aged between 20 and 59,” Jacobs said.

Since the start of the pandemic Belgium has recorded 66,026 cases and 9,821 deaths, according to the latest data published yesterday, among the highest per capita rates of infection of any country.

A three-year-old girl with severe pre-existing health problems became Belgium’s youngest known coronavirus victim last week.

Tougher rules on wearing masks came into force on Saturday with face coverings made obligatory in markets, hotels and busy shopping streets.

Global concerns

Prime Minister Wilmes’s declaration came as fears grew in some European countries of a damaging second wave of the pandemic, with Britain reimposing quarantine requirements on holidaymakers returning from Spain.

As of yesterday evening, the US, the worst-hit nation in the world, had added another 57,000 cases of infection and its recorded death toll stood at 147,588, said Johns Hopkins University.

Until Sunday, the number of US daily infections had exceeded 60,000 for 12 straight days, with some days notching more than 70,000 new cases.

But as the grim figures kept rolling in, the World Health Organization argued against a wholesale closing of borders.

This was “not necessarily a sustainable strategy for the world’s economy, for the world’s poor, or for anybody else,” said WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan.

A “global one-size-fits-all policy” was impossible because outbreaks were developing differently in different countries, he added.

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Meanwhile, China has reported its highest number of coronavirus cases in three months.

Indonesia confirmed its 100,000th coronavirus case yesterday, as the Red Cross warned that the crisis in the world’s fourth most-populous country risked “spiralling out of control”.

New infections have also surged in Hong Kong, which for weeks appeared to have infection rates under control.

Now, however, everyone in the densely populated territory must wear masks in public from this week.

“The epidemic situation in Hong Kong is remarkably severe,” Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said as he announced the measure, as well as a ban on more than two people gathering in public and restaurants restricted to serving takeaway meals.

© – AFP, 2020  

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