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Belgium's prime minister on Monday put the brakes on the country's coronavirus exit plan, unveiling a set of drastic social distancing measures aimed at avoiding a new general lockdown amid a surge of COVID-19 infections.
Speaking after an urgent meeting of the national security council, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said that from next Wednesday contacts outside every household will be limited to the same five people over the next four weeks, as the so-called “social bubble” now applies to a house and its occupants and not to individuals. Belgian residents are currently allowed to meet with 15 different people per week. The measures dont apply to children under the age of 12.
“Our aim is clear — avoid another full lockdown,” Wilmes said.
Wilmes said that the new measures — which also include lowering crowd limits at public events to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors — could be sufficient to avoid further restrictions and to ensure children can return to school en masse in September, after the summer break.
Wilmes exhorted people to get back to working remotely when possible, “one of the keys for a successful deconfinement.” She added that shoppers should run errands alone from now on and limit the time they spend in stores to 30 minutes. In addition, family or friends' gatherings —including wedding receptions — will be limited to a maximum of 10 people.
“However, the most important approach is the individual one,” Wilmes said. “If we cannot contain the coronavirus, it will be a collective failure.”
After a sharp decline of infections, Belgium has witnessed a surge in confirmed cases over the past three weeks. According to figures released Monday, the number rose 71% from July 17-23 compared to the previous 7 days, with 47% of the cases detected in Antwerp province.
The number of cases also increased greatly in the rest of the county, with an average of 279 new daily cases and a 30% rise in the number of people admitted to hospital.