BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - Belgium put on hold an expected relaxation of coronavirus restrictions on Friday (Feb 26) after hospital admissions of people infected with Covid-19 spiked.
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said new Covid-19 cases, which had stabilised for three months, were now rising again.
This was likely due to a spread of the more infectious variant that was first identified in Britain and now accounts for about half of all cases.
"We have not taken the decisions (on lifting restrictions) we had envisaged taking," De Croo told a news conference, saying that he and fellow ministers had decided to review the situation in a week.
New hospital admissions rose to 200 on Thursday, a sharp increase on the daily average of about 125 of the past weeks.
"It forces us to be particularly careful...When there is a storm you cannot set out. With these figures, we cannot ease," De Croo said. "It's difficult to give this message now. I understand it is like a cold shower."
The government had been expected to consider allowing more people to meet outdoors than the current maximum of four, and to review a ban on non-essential foreign travel that currently runs until April 1.
Some 22,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Belgium, among the world's highest per capita level of fatalities. But the coronavirus has been brought under more control than in neighbours Germany and the Netherlands and the daily average number of deaths is still falling, allowing Belgium to reopen hair salons this month.
All shops and schools are also allowed to operate.