Belgium, hit by one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Europe, has reimposed tight strict lockdown rules across the nation.
From Sunday, non-essential shops will be closed, although it will be possible to collect products that have been ordered online.
It will be mandatory for employees to work from home, if possible.
Restaurants, bars and cafes across Belgium have already been forced to shut.
Under these stricter coronavirus restrictions, trades that require close contact, such as hairdressers, are to close.
Belgians will be allowed to welcome only one close contact into their homes.
Those who live alone will be allowed two of these so-called “cuddle contacts”. Beyond their home, gatherings will be limited to a maximum of four people.
Schools will remain closed until 15 November, after which date a staggered return is now being planned.
Belgium has one of the highest infection rates on the continent.
The number of people admitted to hospital over the past week was 77% higher than the previous week, and was 10% higher than the previous record for COVID-19 admissions, set in April.
Around half of the nation’s intensive care beds are now being used for coronavirus patients.
Announcing the new restrictions, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said: “Our country is in a state of sanitary emergency. The pressure is immense, and there is only one choice – to support our healthcare sector as much as we can.
“We are going back into a strict lockdown, which has only one purpose: to ensure that our healthcare system does not collapse.”
Belgium’s decision follows hard on the heels of a similar move from its neighbour, France, which introduced tough new lockdown rules earlier this week.
Germany which also neighbours Belgium, has also tightened restrictions this week.
Belgium’s return to a lockdown has come as little surprise.
Confronted by spiralling rates of infection and hospitalisations, as well as a growing number of deaths, a group of health professionals had beseeched the government to take the decision, while it has been widely awaited in Brussels and beyond.
The question for many will not be “why is this happening” but probably “why didn’t this happen sooner?”
In a sign of how the virus has affected Belgian society, the previous prime minister, Sophie Wilmes, was earlier allowed to leave hospital to continue her recovery from COVID-19. She has previously spent several days in intensive care.
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