BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgium on Wednesday expanded the use of face masks and mandatory remote working in a bid to contain a new wave of COVID-19 cases.
“The alarm signals are flashing red,” said Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.
The prime minister added that the mandatory use of face masks in crowded places would now also include those aged 10 and older and that remote working, if possible, would be mandatory for 4 days in the 5-day work week until December 12.
Until now, face masks were limited to 12 years and older and remote working was only a recommendation, but not mandatory. Special rules adapted to combat COVID-19 schools would soon be imposed, he said.
The government also tightened rules in nightclubs, restaurants and bars, adding that masks or a negative virus test would be required in addition to a mandatory full vaccination status check.
“If we want to avoid another lockdown, we have to show a sense of responsibility,” said De Croo.
The measures reflect similar actions taken in several European countries where the virus has raged again in the past week. The World Health Organization says Europe is the only region in the world where deaths from COVID-19 are rising.
The number of coronavirus cases in Belgium, a country of 11 million inhabitants, has increased by 27% in the past week to more than 10,000 per day. The number of hospital admissions increased by 21% over the same period, while the use of ICU beds increased by 28% to 557.
Belgium is again facing a coronavirus crisis, although 76.1% of the population has been vaccinated, including 88% of all adults, one of the highest rates in the EU with 27 countries.
De Croo said every effort will be made to extend a booster vaccination campaign to the entire population, having so far been limited to vulnerable groups and medical personnel.
To improve the vaccination campaign, the government decided earlier this week to make vaccinations mandatory for health professionals from April.
Follow all AP stories about the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.