BRUSSELS (AP) – Belgium expanded its use of masks and mandatory teleworking on Wednesday in an attempt to contain a new spike in COVID-19 cases.
“The alarms are flashing red,” said Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.
The prime minister added that the mandatory use of masks in public places will now apply to persons over 10 years old and that telework, when possible, will be mandatory for 4 days of a five-day work week until December 12.
Until now, masks have only been used for those over 12 years old, and teleworking was only a recommendation, but not mandatory. According to him, in the near future, special rules will be introduced, adapted to combat COVID-19 in schools.
The government has also tightened rules in nightclubs, restaurants and bars, adding that masks or a negative test for the virus will be required in addition to compulsory verification of full vaccination status.
“If we want to avoid new isolation, we must show a sense of responsibility,” De Croo said.
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 with an increasing number of deaths from COVID-19.
Coronavirus cases in Belgium, a country of 11 million people, have increased by 27% over the past week to reach over 10,000 a day. During the same period, the number of hospitalizations increased by 21%, and the use of intensive care beds increased by 28% to 557.
Belgium is facing a coronavirus crisis again, despite the fact that 76.1% of the population have been vaccinated, including 88% of all adults, which is one of the highest rates among the 27 EU countries.
De Croo said that every effort will now be made to extend the revaccination campaign to the entire population after it has so far been restricted to vulnerable groups and healthcare workers.
To improve the effectiveness of vaccinations, the government decided earlier this week to make vaccinations mandatory for healthcare workers from April next year.
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