Belgium announces new Covid restrictions, but prime minister vows to avoid lockdown

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo pictured during a press conference.
HADRIEN DURE | AFP | Getty Images

BRUSSELS — Belgium is toughening up social restrictions as Covid-19 cases surge, but Prime Minister Alexander de Croo tells CNBC the aim is still to keep society open.

“It’s not the same virus anymore. This is a mutation of the virus, which is much more infectious,” the Belgian prime minister said in an exclusive interview Tuesday.

However, he added: “Our goal will be to keep society open to make sure that our businesses remain open, to make sure that our schools remain open, to make sure that our hotels and restaurants and cafes remain open. But with additional protection.”

The government said on Wednesday that people should work from home four days a week until mid-December and three days after that. All people aged 10 and above in indoor venues will have to wear a mask, unless seated. Nightclubs should also test guests so they can dance mask-free.

Belgium’s daily average of Covid infections over the last 7 days is at 10,283. It has not been this high since last winter. Average daily hospital admissions is currently around 280, the highest since the start of spring.

This is a similar picture emerging across Europe. The Netherlands, Ireland, Slovakia and Austria are among the countries that have recently re-imposed some level of social restrictions.

But for Belgium’s de Croo, the answer to the current wave is not targeting the unvaccinated — as Austria has done.

“It’s always dangerous to compare one country to the other. If we compare our situation with Austria, for example, the vaccine uptake in Austria is significantly lower than it is in Belgium,” de Croo said.

“The measures that they are taking have a partial lockdown, which is focusing on the people who are not vaccinated. I’m not sure that would be very efficient in Belgium because our situation is different here. A large majority, a much higher share of the population, is vaccinated,” he said.

According to data from Our World in Data, 74% of Belgium’s population is fully vaccinated, higher than the European Union’s average. In Austria, only about 64% of the population has received a full dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Some Belgian politicians have been discussing whether vaccination should be made mandatory, but Prime Minister de Croo insisted this is a “personal choice.”

“It’s also important to make clear that vaccination is a choice. It’s a wise choice. But it’s still a personal choice. I believe that it’s always better to convince people with facts,” he said.

Belgium has been administering boosters to the older part of the population but will soon extend this to more age groups.

“Within the next days, we will start a huge campaign to make sure that the general public — so people also younger than 65, get access to a booster shot,” de Croo told CNBC at the European Business Summit.

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