Belgian COVID-19 hospitalisations rise back to pre-lockdown level

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Medical workers work in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are treated at the Saint-Pierre clinic in Ottignies, Belgium, April 7, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

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BRUSSELS, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Belgium on Thursday reported a jump in COVID-19 infections and hospitalisations rose back to levels that had forced a lockdown in October 2020, as the United States advised against travelling to the host of EU and NATO headquarters.

Data from Belgium's Sciensano health institute showed 6,728 daily new cases on average in the last 14 days, up 36% from the previous week. An average of 164 patients with COVID-19 were admitted to hospitals daily in the last seven days, a 31% increase, and 343 coronavirus patients were in intensive care.

Belgium went into its second coronavirus lockdown in October 2020, a few days after recording similar hospitalisation numbers.

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On Monday, the U.S. Centres for Disease Control (CDC) added Belgium to its highest risk level, discouraging international travel there for those not fully vaccinated.

"Because of the current situation in Belgium, even fully vaccinated travellers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants," it said.

Other European Union countries on the U.S. maximum COVID-19 risk level include Austria, Croatia, Greece and the Baltic countries.

"I thought that with the vaccinations everything would be solved, but it persists," said a Brussels supplier Erik Verpuylt. "We will have to slowly accept the coronavirus as a kind of bad flu."

More than 8.6 million people, or 74% of Belgium's total population, have been fully vaccinated, meaning no new lockdowns are being discussed. But the country has eased face mask requirements in recent months and is now facing a fresh spike in infections as winter nears.

"The majority of the people being hospitalised are people who are not vaccinated or (only) partially vaccinated," said Inge Neven, crisis manager responsible for COVID-19 response in Brussels.

"The people that are in intensive care are almost exclusively people who have not been vaccinated."

So far in the nearly two years of the pandemic, Belgium has had one of the world's highest per capita mortality rates, mostly due to deaths in care homes in the first wave.

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Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine, Additional reporting by Bart Biesemans and Christian Levaux, Editing by Gabriela Baczynska, John Stonestreet and Aurora Ellis

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