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Belgian schools to reopen in September, masks mandatory for older children

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgian schools will reopen on Sept. 1 when the academic year starts, with children above 12 years old and teachers required to wear masks during the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said on Thursday.

“The goal is to avoid a second wave, we see today that the situation is stabilising and improving,” she told a news conference. “It is very important that children go to school.”

Belgium has seen a downward trend in daily new cases in the past days, though Brussels, home to EU institutions and NATO, has reported increases although on a declining level.

With 9,959 deaths linked to the coronavirus so far, the country of 11 million has one of the world’s highest death rates from COVID-19 per head. The number of cases stands at 78,897.

Wilmes eased restrictions on the number of people allowed to attend public events, doubling it to 200 for inside events and 400 for outside.

Shoppers will be allowed in twos while a Belgian family or those living together will only be able to meet five other people, a restriction introduced last month that will now be extended to end-September.

Editing by Janet Lawrence