Coronavirus: Infections rising, more masks, holiday-makers to register before coming home

Summary

With the infection rate up to 1.27, a number of measures are being implemented to help stop the further spread

Wake-up call

Belgium’s coronavirus infection rate is estimated at 1.27, Sciensano said on Friday. This means that 100 people who test positive for the virus will typically go on to infect 127 others, so the virus is growing. The number of new infections has grown by 89% in the past week. Antwerp province is the worst affected, with 599 new confirmed cases in seven days, up 163%, and representing about 40% of the total nationwide infections. Brussels had 128 new cases in the past week, up 27%.

A three-year-old girl has become Belgium’s youngest person to die after contracting coronavirus. She had underlying health problems. “This sad news serves as a wake-up call,” said Sciensano spokesperson Boudewijn Catry. “It is rare that a young person dies from coronavirus, but it is clear that no one is immune.”

After the National Security Council gave local mayors the freedom to choose where to require masks to be worn, some local authorities are already taking a tougher stance. In the East Flemish towns of Deinze, Oudenaarde, Kruisem, Kluisbergen and Wortegem-Petegem, masks will be compulsory everywhere outdoors, regardless of how busy the place is. “We must act in a preventive way if we want to prevent a second wave," the mayors said in a joint statement. “A general rule everywhere is clear to everyone: if you leave your home, you put on a mask.” Kortrijk and Halle are also introducing stricter rules.

‘Careless and reckless’

The governor of Antwerp province, Cathy Berx, wants people to limit their social contacts to the people they live with. People living by themselves should see no more than two other people. “I hope we can turn the tide, but now we all have to play by the rules. I have a feeling that a lot of people have become careless and reckless,” she said. “They feel immortal, but we are seeing a huge increase in the number of infections and the number of hospital admissions. We must intervene now.”

Anderlecht football club will play its home matches without spectators when the season resumes in August. “We have made this difficult decision following recent developments in the pandemic,” the club’s chief executive, Karel Van Eetvelt, said. “In collaboration with the municipality of Anderlecht, we chose to take the fewest possible risks in terms of public health.”

A general rule everywhere is clear to everyone: if you leave your home, you put on a mask

Travel operators have criticised the government’s “clumsy and premature communication”, after announcing that travellers on holiday must fill in a passenger tracking form 48 hours before returning to Belgium. The form is not yet ready and travel agents say they have received numerous phone calls from customers, to which they do not know the answer.

The measure is due to come into force on 1 August and applies to trips of three days or more. “If it is done correctly and efficiently and contributes to the safety of our customers and to public health in general, we will of course be happy to cooperate,” the industry federation said.

New recruits

Bpost has recruited almost 1,000 extra postal workers since the coronavirus crisis began. Many of the new recruits come from the restaurant and hospitality sector. “There is a lot of interest,” said a Bpost spokesperson. “We receive an average of 200 requests per week.” A CGSP union spokesman said: “There are still a lot of vacancies, for example because many postal workers are retiring, but the number of applications is very high. People are starting to realise that it is a good job with a decent salary.”

Customers in restaurants and cafes will be required to wear a mask when not sitting down, from 25 July, Belgian prime minister Sophie Wilmès has announced. They will also be asked to leave their contact details – a phone number or email address – which should be kept for 14 days, to facilitate contact-tracing if a customer or staff member tests positive for coronavirus. 

Belgium’s National Security Council has also extended the mask requirement to include markets, funfairs, shopping streets and any other busy area. Each municipality will be responsible for defining these areas. Night shops will be required to close at 22.00 – instead of 1.00 – to discourage late-night get-togethers.

Photo: Belga/Thierry Roge