To rein in the unrelenting spread of the coronavirus, a growing number of European nations have chosen to swallow a bitter pill — a second lockdown long seen as a last resort.
Taking cues from its neighbors France and Germany, Belgium became the latest nation re-imposing a second lockdown. The country’s COVID-19 incidence, currently at more than 1,600 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, dwarfs all of its European peers.
Since Thursday midnight, France has been under a nationwide lockdown, and Germany will go into a partial one starting Monday.
The lockdowns came as Europe passed the grim 10 million infections mark, fueled by recurring daily records
Belgium will move to stricter lockdown, with rules valid throughout the country to fight against COVID-19, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced Friday.
According to the rules, all non-essential businesses will have to close, while food stores and supermarkets will remain open.
Tele-working becomes mandatory wherever possible. Belgian borders remain open but travel abroad is strongly discouraged.
In the social bubble, only one contact is allowed. In other words, only one person can be invited at home, and that person will be close contact.
The “rule of four” remains applicable outside. One can meet four people outside, go for a walk or other activity together, but should practice social distancing and wear a mask.
These measures will be in force throughout the country from Nov. 2 to Dec. 13.
The nationwide lockdown came on the heels of the one in France starting Thursday midnight. People in France now can go out only for work, health emergency, essential family needs or short exercise near home. Non-essential shops, including bars, cafes, gyms and restaurants, are closed.
The French government expects that the one-month lockdown would help cut the daily number of COVID-19 infections to 5,000, but experts believed that new restrictions need more time to bear fruit.
Germany announced earlier this week a partial lockdown starting Nov. 2. Entertainment and leisure activities will be largely prohibited throughout Germany as bars, restaurants, theaters, operas and concert venues will have to close until the end of November.
The Dutch government announced a “partial lockdown” on Oct. 13. Cafes and restaurants were closed for one month. So far, the government has not announced additional measures.
Despite the pandemic showing no sign of abating and Europe being dubbed again by the World Health Organization (WHO) an “epicenter” of the coronavirus earlier this week, other European countries thus far still balked at slapping a new round of lockdown. Instead, they made some tweaks to the restrictions already in place.
In the latest developments on Friday, the government of Slovenia extended key restrictive measures. Store closures and the six-person ceiling for gatherings have been extended by a week. The mandatory use of face masks in indoor and outdoor public spaces and the obligation to use hand sanitizers have been extended by two weeks.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters on Thursday that he was not considering a full lockdown, after the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases exceeded 300,000 in the country.
In Greece, the record of daily confirmed cases has been broken several times in October, triggering a series of measures by authorities on the regional level. But the government has said repeatedly that a nationwide lockdown will be the last option.
As of 4:28 p.m. CET on Friday, Europe has reported to the WHO a cumulative 10,520,014 confirmed cases. Among them are 1,166,010 infections during the first five days of this week (starting Oct. 26), accounting for more than half of the global total.
Meanwhile, Friday saw four European states break daily records again: Poland (20,629), Germany (18,681), the Netherlands (11,141), and Latvia (284).
The WHO Emergency Committee on COVID-19, after a two-day meeting, unanimously agreed on Friday that the pandemic still constituted a public health emergency of international concern and continued to require a coordinated international response.
As the world is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries across the globe — including China, Russia, Britain and the U.S. — are racing to find a vaccine.