Partial lockdown imposed in Belgium, EU's worst-hit country

Belgium has imposed a partial lockdown in a new bid to gain control of the pandemic that has hit the country worse than any other in the European Union

BUIZINGEN, Belgium -- Belgium has imposed a partial lockdown in a new bid to gain control of the pandemic that has hit the country worse than any other in the European Union.

As COVID-19 infections continued their record rise on Friday, the government moved to restrict travel and shopping. Family contact will also be reduced to an absolute minimum of one outside the closest cluster for the next 6 weeks. Remote work will be mandatory.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control on Friday ranked Belgium as the worst affected nation in the 27-nation bloc, with 1,600 cases per 100,000 people. Hotspots like Spain and Italy have less than a third of that total, highlighting how acute the crisis is.

France, with proportionally fewer than half the cases, announced a second, full nationwide lockdown Wednesday. Belgium, however, will still allow people to travel to their hotel or secondary residence, often on the coast or in the verdant Ardennes hills.

The one-week school vacation which started Friday will be extended for an extra week.

After surpassing the spring record on Thursday, the number of hospital patients in Belgium, a nation of 11.5 million, broke the 6,000-mark and stood at 6,187, a rise of 263 in a day.

“Unfortunately, we cannot yet see the long-expected turnaround in figures,” said virologist Steven Van Gucht. He said that the true total of infections is higher than reported because testing has been reduced for specific categories of people.

Patients in intensive care units reached 1,057 from 993 the day earlier, and virologists have warned that unless tougher measures have a quick impact the saturation point of 2,000 patients will be reached on Nov. 6.

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