Belgium further tightens COVID measures in bid to avoid lockdown


FILE PHOTO: People eat while they sit at Brussels' Grand Place, as restaurants were forced to close for four weeks, after a Belgian federal government decision in order to tackle a surging second wave of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the country, in Brussels, Belgium October 19, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium, one of Europe's hardest hit countries by the coronavirus, further tightened restrictions on social contacts on Friday, banning fans from sports matches, limiting the number of people in cultural spaces and closing theme parks.

Belgium, which has already closed cafes, bars and restaurants and imposed a night curfew, has Europe's second highest infection rate per capita after the Czech Republic. Newinfections hit a peak of 10,500 on Thursday.

But the country has so far resisted calls from medical experts for a second lockdown, following the period of confinement in March, to prevent more economic pain.

The restrictions, which also include stricter social distancing, efforts to avoid crowding on public transport and a maximum of 200 people in theatres, concert halls and cinemas, run until Nov. 19.

"We are pressing the pause button .... we have a single objective, which is to limit contacts that are not strictly necessary," Belgium Prime Minister Alexander de Croo told a news conference. "There's no law that can stop the virus, the only ones who can stop it are us ... all together," he said.

The nation of 11 million people had 1,013 new COVID-19 infections per 100,000 residents over the past week, according to official figures, and has lost 10,588 people to the disease, among the world’s highest per capita fatality rates.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott, editing by Marine Strauss)

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