Covid: Belgium announces return to national lockdown

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A patrol of the Antwerp local police, in Antwerp, Friday 30 October 2020.Image source, Getty Images
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The new lockdown measures will last until at least the middle of December

Belgium has announced a return to a national lockdown as the latest coronavirus figures show it has the highest infection rate in Europe.

Non-essential shops and businesses offering personal services like hair salons have been ordered to close from Monday until the middle of December.

Any gatherings in public spaces must be limited to a maximum of four people.

Supermarkets can only sell essential goods and households are allowed just one visitor.

Autumn school holidays have also been extended until 15 November.

The existing night-time curfew measures and closures of bars and restaurants will remain in place.

Belgium suffered one of the highest death rates in the world during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring.

It now has the highest infection rate in Europe with more than half of the 2,000 beds in its intensive care units (ICU) already occupied by Covid patients.

On Friday, Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said the country "finds itself in a health emergency".

"The pressure on our hospitals is huge," he said, while announcing the new measures, adding: "These are last-chance measures if we want to get the figures down."

Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said the new lockdown "will not plunge people into isolation".

"It's a lockdown, but a lockdown that allows factories to operate, that will allow schools to open cautiously," he said.

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Gavin Lee reported on the situation in Belgium earlier this month

There have been 1,600 infections and 8.4 deaths per 100,000 people in the last 14 days, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

The decision is a compromise between Belgium's federal and regional governments which have sometimes pursued different policies during the crisis.

Belgium's death rate is second only to the Czech Republic in the EU. More than 11,300 people have died in the country of around 11.5 million.

Much of Europe is battling with soaring infection rates.

France is now in a new national lockdown that will last at least a month. Schools and workplaces remain open, but people need permits to leave home.

Germany will introduce "lockdown light" measures on Monday, with tighter restrictions on people's movements, though not as tough as the Belgian and French regimes.

Poland now has its highest level of restrictions to date, with public gatherings banned, most schools closed and restaurants and cafes only offering take-away service.

And in Spain there have been clashes between police and demonstrators in Barcelona, who turned out in the streets against new coronavirus restrictions - including a curfew and a ban on leaving the city over the weekend.

Some protesters in masks threw objects at officers in full riot gear. Local police said 20 officers were injured and 12 people arrested.

Image source, Reuters
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Police and demonstrators clashed in Barcelona on Friday