Belgian officials Friday announced new COVID-19 restrictions but stopped short of a lockdown to stem the surging rate of infections, which are now averaging more than 10,000 per day.
At a news conference in Brussels, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced, among other restrictions, fans are now banned from sports matches; zoos and theme parks will be closed; and limits will be placed on the number of people in cultural spaces. Teleworking remains the rule wherever possible.
Belgium had already closed cafes, bars and restaurants and imposed a curfew, and has Europe’s second highest infection rate per capita after the Czech Republic. New infections hit a peak of 10,500 on Thursday.
De Croo said Belgium is “pressing the 'pause' button” for a few goals, “to ensure that our doctors and hospitals can keep doing their work, that children can continue attending schools and that businesses can continue working while preserving as much as possible the mental health of our population."
Visits at nursing homes have also been limited, but many health experts think the new curtailment won't be enough to break the contagion chain.
Since the pandemic started, the virus has killed 10,588 people in the small nation with 11.5-million inhabitants.
The health situation is so dramatic in nine out of 10 Belgium's provinces that authorities have recently warned intensive care units will hit their capacity by mid-November if new coronavirus cases continue at the same pace.
"No rules, no laws can defeat the virus," said De Croo. "The only ones who can defeat it, it is us and our collective behavior."
To avoid a collapse of the health system, Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said that the number of beds available in ICUs will be increased to 2,300 while non-urgent operations will be postponed over the next four weeks.
De Croo said it is not new rules and regulations that will defeat the virus, but the collective behavior of the people. He also sent a message of support to business owners and workers affected by the measures who struggle financially and are losing their jobs.
"To all the people affected on the economic level be assured that we are putting everything in place to help, we are going through a national crisis, and national crisis requires national solidarity,” he said.