BRUSSELS: Belgium will ban non-essential trips out of the country from Wednesday (Jan 27) in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19 infections, especially highly contagious variants, a government official said.
The official spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity ahead of a media conference by Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, who was to present details of the ban.
The Belgian health ministry said that it cannot yet lift coronavirus-related restrictions despite a stabilising of COVID-19 infections and falling daily deaths.
With one of the world's highest per capita death rates from COVID-19, Belgium has so far avoided a third wave of infections such as those seen in Britain and Germany. But the health ministry said the numbers remained too high to start easing measures.
The objective is to have fewer than 800 confirmed infections a day and fewer than 75 new hospitalisations a day for three weeks before starting to ease lockdown rules, a far cry from the current average of just under 2,000 infections a day.
"For the moment, the virus still has its hand in the game but we still have our two best players: vaccination and spring," health ministry spokesman Yves Van Laethem told a news conference.
This week also marked the first time in a month that the number of people in hospital is rising again, particularly in the last few days, Van Laethem said.
"The situation remains fragile, on a plateau too high for health systems, especially since the number of cases and hospitalisations no longer seems to be decreasing," he said.
Belgium is not under a strict lockdown but bars, cafes and restaurants remain closed as well as gyms and cinemas, while home working is obligatory.
The federal government was due to meet on Friday to discuss banning non-essential travel abroad, extending the quarantine period to 10 days from seven days and imposing a €250 (US$300) fine on those who do not get tested or go into quarantine after more than 16 hours abroad, compared with 48 hours currently.
The country of 11 million, home to the headquarters of the European Union and NATO, has officially recorded 20,620 COVID-19-related deaths so far.