Former Belgian PM in intensive care with COVID-19

BRUSSELS (AP) — Sophie Wilmes, who as Belgian's prime minister led the country's fight against the coronavirus, has been hospitalized in intensive care with COVID-19, her office said Thursday.

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Wilmes, 45, who handed the reins over to Alexander de Croo earlier this month and is now Belgian's foreign minister, announced last week that she had tested positive. She was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Elke Pattyn told The Associated Press that Wilmes is in a stable condition and conscious. She said her condition “is not worrying.”

Wilmes was in charge when the first wave of infections hit the country this spring. She said last week she thought she got infected within her family circle.

De Croo and Charles Michel, a former Belgian Prime minister now presiding over the European Union council, were among the many politicians who sent Wilmes messages of support.

“All my affection and friendship to Sophie Wilmes who led the national fight against COVID-19 and who must now fight it personally," Michel said in a message posted on Twitter.

Belgium, a country of 11.5 million inhabitants, has been severely hit by the coronavirus and is currently seeing a sharp rise in new cases. More than 10,000 people have died from coronavirus-related complications in Belgium.

Wilmes became Belgium's first female prime minister in October last year when she succeeded Michel. First appointed as a caretaker, she then led a government with special powers to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Wilmes was praised for her soft touch as she calmly led the country through the crisis.

Born in Brussels, Wilmes started her political career as a local councillor in the Belgian capital and joined the federal government in 2015 as budget minister.

She stepped down this month when De Croo was sworn in after nearly a year-and-a-half of complex negotiations among parties divided along linguistic as well as political lines.

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