Belgium Tightens Virus Rules Again As Hospitals Suffer

BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgium must tighten its coronavirus restrictions another notch as the latest surge in cases weighs heavily on health services and deprives people with other life-threatening diseases like cancer of necessary treatment, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Friday.

Kindergartens and primary schools will now close for the holiday season a week early, on Dec. 20, and children must wear masks from the age of 6. The government capped attendance at indoor events at 200 people.

“There are too many people who are not getting the treatment they need in hospital, so it is important to act quickly,” De Croo told reporters, noting that 40% of Belgium's intensive care beds are currently filled by COVID-19 patients. “It’s a situation that cannot be tolerated.”

It’s the third week in a row that De Croo's government has tightened restrictions. Last Friday, the government closed nightclubs, and ordered bars and restaurants to shut at 11 p.m. for three weeks. There had been speculation that closing times of 8 p.m. were in the works, but the Cabinet decided against it, for now.

According to the latest pandemic figures, the nation of 11 million appears to have reached a plateau.

On a weekly average, 17,862 new daily cases were reported, a rise of 6% over the previous week. Hospital admissions rose 4%. More than 3,700 people are hospitalized with the virus, 821 of them in intensive care.

More than 27,000 people have died in Belgium during the pandemic.