Belgium is facing a ‘tsunami’ of coronavirus infections, the country’s health minister has warned as a night-time curfew took effect today.
Bars and restaurants have closed for a month and hospitals are having to delay surgeries to cope with the exponential growth of Covid-19.
Belgium’s infection rate is the second-worst in Europe after the Czech Republic and cases have doubled in a month to more than 222,000, in a country which already has more virus deaths than its far larger neighbour Germany.
‘We are really very close to a tsunami,’ Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told broadcaster RTL, adding that the situation in Brussels and the French-speaking region of Wallonia was ‘the most dangerous in the whole of Europe’.
The warning came as Italy imposed new restrictions after the infection rate doubled in the space of a week, with nearly 60,000 new cases in seven days.
Russia also posted its biggest ever one-day jump with 15,982 new cases today while the Czech Republic is teetering on the brink of a second full lockdown.
BELGIUM CASES: New cases have doubled in a month to more than 222,000 and the country’s infection rate is the second-worst in Europe after the Czech Republic
BELGIUM DEATHS: New fatalities have risen slightly in a country which already has more Covid-19 deaths than its far larger neighbour Germany
Belgium’s Covid-19 crisis centre said today that average daily cases were up to 7,876, a rise of 79 per cent in the last week alone.
Delays in the publication of test results mean the true epidemiological situation could be even worse, said spokesman Yves Van Laethem.
As of Monday, 2,485 Covid-19 patients were hospitalized in Belgium, including 412 in intensive care. Authorities have warned that intensive care units will hit their capacity of 2,000 beds by mid-November if new cases continue to soar.
According to the European Centre for Disease Control, Belgium recorded more than 700 infections per 100,000 people over the last 14 days, the second-worst European record behind the Czech Republic, which had 828.
To fight the spread of the disease, Belgium’s curfew will be enforced every night from midnight until 5am for at least a month.
Alcohol sales will be banned after 8pm, while people will only be allowed to see one other person outside their household.
Companies have been ordered to work from home wherever possible, while universities are imposing tighter controls in lecture halls.
Prime minister Alexander De Croo said the situation in Belgium now is more serious than it was in March when the country implemented a national lockdown.
‘We have three times as many people in intensive care in hospitals. So the situation in the hospitals is serious. It will continue to deteriorate,’ De Croo told RTL.
BELGIUM: People wear masks and keep their distance as they wait in line to be tested at a Red Cross centre at the Parc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels today
A partial return to lockdown in Brussels failed to stem the dramatic new wave of coronavirus infections, leading to the new measures across Belgium.
Venues are allowed to offer take-away food, including the cafes and sandwich joints around the EU headquarters.
De Croo, who took office on October 1 after cobbling together a ruling coalition more than a year after elections, warned of an ‘exponential’ virus surge.
In a country of only 11.5 million, Belgium already has one of the highest per-capita rates of infection in the world.
‘The situation is serious and much worse that it was on March 18 when we ordered almost complete confinement,’ he said of the intensive care situation on Friday.
By Monday, Belgium had registered 222,253 coronavirus cases – a figure that has doubled in the past month, and 10,413 deaths.
Schools have reopened, but from Monday university campuses will be limited to a fifth of normal student numbers.
In the French-speaking part of the country, the All Saints’ Day school holidays that start on October 31 have been prolonged so that they run into the November 11 holiday weekend.
The EU is debating whether to hold more summits and talks virtually, after two foreign ministers who met last week tested positive and several leaders abandoned a face-to-face summit to self-isolate.
BELGIUM: A view of an empty street in Brussels on Sunday night after the government announced a midnight to 5am curfew to stem rising infections
NETHERLANDS: Seats and tables lie empty at a closed bar in Eindhoven over the weekend after the Dutch government ordered a two-week shutdown which has enraged caterers
Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, bar and restaurant owners are taking the government to court in a bid to overturn a two-week closures.
Caterers say the damage to their industry will be ‘incalculable’ and insist their venues are safe after PM Mark Rutte ordered the shutdown last week.
At least 30 businesses have launched a lawsuit to get the restrictions overturned, according to De Telegraaf.
Dutch catering group KHN said last week that there was ‘disbelief, frustration and a lot of sadness’ after the closures were announced.
‘The catering industry has done its utmost in recent months to offer guests a safe environment and to prevent infections, and with results,’ they said.
The share of infections that could be traced back to the catering industry was only 1.8 per cent in the previous week, they said.
The Netherlands has reported more than 53,000 new infections in the last week, bringing the total to 228,234 cases with 6,751 deaths.
KHN chairman Rober Willemsen warned that ‘this closure is really the final blow for many catering entrepreneurs’.
‘The catering industry is being hit hard and I am therefore very concerned about the future catering landscape,’ Willemsen said.
German bar owners succeeded in a similar legal appeal last week after a Berlin court ruled that early closures were ‘disproportionate’.
It was ‘not apparent’ that closing the establishments early would help fight contagion, the court found in the case brought by 11 restaurant and bar owners.
Berlin authorities plan to appeal the ruling after German health minister Jens Spahn said there was ‘no doubt’ that big-city nightlife was helping to spread the virus.
Germany’s cases rose to 366,229 today while deaths went up to 9,789, although the rebound has so far been smaller than in many neighbouring countries.
NETHERLANDS CASES: Dutch infections have soared during the second wave, with more than 53,000 infections in the last week alone, leading to new restrictions
NETHERLANDS DEATHS: The Netherlands has seen 6,751 deaths, although like in most of Western Europe the fatalities are fewer than during the first wave
In Spain, Madrid authorities went to court over travel restrictions that were imposed on the hard-hit region by the Spanish health ministry.
The regional government had an initial victory when a court found the restrictions were a wrongful ‘interference in citizens’ fundamental rights’.
But their success was short-lived as Spain’s government invoked a state of emergency to override the decision and impose the curbs anyway.
Bars and restaurants in Madrid also face early closures, which were not fought over in court, and Catalonia has closed them altogether to fend off the second wave.
Spain’s total cases are hurtling towards a million and the death toll is now rising by more than 100 per day, although not by as much as in the spring.
In Italy, there were 59,296 new cases in the last seven days compared to 29,622 in the previous week as cases spiral once again.
Prime minister Giuseppe Conte announced new restrictions on Sunday including a six-person limit at restaurants, which will also have to close by midnight.
Bars will have to close at 6pm unless they can offer table service to seated customers.
In addition, Italian mayors can close public squares and other gathering places after 9pm, permitting access only to reach homes or businesses.
ITALY CASES: New infections have soared alarmingly, doubling in the last week as the country tries to stave off a return to the nightmare of March and April
ITALY DEATHS: Another 377 fatalities in the last week have brought the total in Italy to 36,543
Elsewhere, Czech ministers say they will wait another two weeks before deciding whether another full lockdown is needed to bring the crisis to a standstill.
In the past week, bars and restaurants in the country of 10.7million have been ordered to close and schools have moved to distance learning.
Sport and fitness clubs, theatres and cinemas had already shut, but shops have remained open.
Officials have warned that hospital admissions are set to rise sharply until the restrictions show an impact.
‘We will not decide this week about a lockdown,’ deputy PM Karel Havlicek said on Czech television. ‘We have clearly said we will wait for results.’
The growth in Covid-19 cases with over 100,000 this month is forcing authorities to make plans for field hospitals and seeking foreign help.
The Czech fire rescue service said it had sent a formal request through European Union channels for ventilators.
On Sunday, there were protests against the new measures which led to police firing tear gas and water cannon to subdue crowds in Prague.
The rally turned fierce as protesters and police scuffled after authorities began dispersing the crowd, saying attendance far exceeded the current limit.
Authorities described some of the protesters as radical football fans, saying around 50 people had been detained before the rally.
Meanwhile in Russia, a record spike of 15,982 cases brought the total to 1.42million today, the fourth-highest tally in the world.
Nonetheless, Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin said today there were signs that authorities were getting the outbreak under control, saying he saw no need for tougher restrictions.
Some regions have closed nightclubs or limited the hours of bars and restaurants, but few measures have been implemented in Moscow.
CZECH REPUBLIC CASES: The country has the highest infection rate in Europe after new infections surged far beyond the level seen in the first wave
CZECH REPUBLIC DEATHS: Unlike in most of Western Europe, daily fatalities are now occurring at a higher rate than in the spring