Belgium is to tighten measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 after a spike in infections, introducing compulsory face masks in crowded outdoor public spaces.
Brussels imposed a lockdown on 18 March in an attempt to contain the coronavirus epidemic, which has claimed 9,808 lives to date.
With a population of just 11.5 million, Belgium is one of the nations per capita that has been hardest hit by the virus, although it has said that was partly due to its transparency .
The government eased the lockdown in early May, and it had planned to loosen restrictions further on Thursday.
But a series of localised outbreaks and a 91 percent spike in nationwide infections last week forced the government to think again.
“The latest figures should not throw us into panic but have to be taken seriously,” Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes told a news conference on Thursday.
Masks outdoors, tracing
Under the new measures, which come into effect on 25 July, Belgians will have to wear a mask in public, including at outdoor markets, shopping streets and other crowded sites.
Tighter measures will also be imposed on bars and restaurants: people who are not seated will have to wear masks.
Customers will also have to leave their contact details to make them easier to trace in case of localised outbreaks.
Night shops will have to close by 10:00 pm.
Local authorities could also put communities into full lockdown if it was justified by epidemiological data.
The government stopped short, however, of imposing stricter restrictions, such as checks on all travellers returning from abroad or shortening opening hours for bars and restaurants.
Belgians will continue to be allowed to meet as many as 15 friends a week after the government decided against cutting the number to 10, Wilmes said.
An easing of restrictions could be announced on 1 September, potentially allowing trade fairs to resume.
France has also seen a recent spike in infections in areas which had been relatively unaffected until now, such as Mayenne, La Rochelle and Brittany.
The government is to announce a series of measures on Friday following a council of defence meeting at the Elysée palace, as fears grow over a possible second wave.
“Absolutely nothing is ruled out,” government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday. “There are no taboos on that question. The only objective is to protect French people.”