World News

Belgium faces decision on possible new lockdown by weekend - official

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium’s federal government should decide by this weekend whether a return to a nationwide lockdown is required, as the country grapples with a resurgence in novel coronavirus cases and hospitals risk running out of beds, an official said.

FILE PHOTO: Police officers patrol Brussels' Grand Place during a nighttime curfew imposed by the Belgian government as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Brussels, Belgium October 20, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

New infections in Belgium, among the hardest-hit countries in Europe, hit a peak of more than 18,000 on Oct. 20, almost a 10-fold increase from the high of a spring wave of the pandemic.

Health Ministry spokesman Yves Van Laethem told Belgian broadcaster RTBF on Monday evening that a decision on returning to lockdown would need to be taken by the end of the week.

“It will be necessary to decide by this weekend if we should go into total lockdown,” Van Laethem said.

Belgium could still “get by” without a lockdown, but only if the rate of hospital admissions was brought under control, he said.

“We must prepare everything for a lockdown if there is no improvement by the end of this week,” he said.

The number of patients in intensive care units (ICUs) is doubling every eight days - to 809 as of Monday - with 5,260 people in hospitals.

Belgium had not asked any other countries to take COVID-19 patients to ease the pressure on its health system, a spokesman for the health minister told Reuters.

Van Laethem told a news conference on Monday that the country’s maximum capacity of 2,000 ICU beds could be reached in two weeks if the increases continued.

Belgium had 1,369 new COVID-19 infections per 100,000 residents over the past week. With 10,810 total deaths, the country of 11 million people has one of the highest per capita fatality rates in the world.

Reporting by Kate Abnett, Marine Strauss; Editing by Robert Birsel