World News

Belgium will not return to tough lockdown: minister

FILE PHOTO: A worker wearing a protective mask is seen during the reopening of 'mini-Europe' theme park where people can wonder across small scale models of European capitals landmarks as Belgium began easing lockdown restrictions amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium, May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium will not return to the strict measures imposed for nearly two months to combat the coronavirus outbreak even if there is a second wave of COVID-19 cases, the country’s interior minister has said.

The country of 11.5 million people effectively closed down in mid-March, with only shops selling food and pharmacies operating, although other activities have steadily resumed in May, including the reopening of non-food stores.

“The first lockdown has taken care of the situation in which we have ended up. These were exceptional circumstances, but we never had Italian or Spanish conditions,” Pieter De Crem told VTM broadcaster on Sunday.

He said the tough lockdown measures meant that Belgian hospitals did not have to deny people medical care.

“If there was a second wave, then I think we will find ourselves in a different situation, namely with testing and tracing. But I think we can rule out that we will have to go back to the tough measures,” De Crem said.

Belgium, home to EU and NATO headquarters, has been among the worst affected countries in Europe with 57,092 COVID-19 cases and 9,280 deaths, although the number of cases, hospital admissions and fatalities has declined since peaking in early April.

Belgium’s government will hold a meeting with regional leaders and economic and medical experts on June 3 to discuss a further easing of restrictions, which could extend to restaurants and leisure activities.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, editing by Ed Osmond