BRUSSELS (AFP) - Belgium will close all cafes and restaurants for four weeks on Monday (Oct 19) as it seeks to tackle a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.
The move was announced by deputy prime minister Georges Gilkinet following a meeting of the Belgian government's crisis unit.
The Brussels city region already imposed similar restrictions last week but Friday's announcement extends them nationwide.
Gilkinet said the decision to close cafes and restaurants - deemed high-risk venues for spreading the virus - was taken to try to head off another full lockdown like the one Belgium enforced earlier in the year.
He warned "the situation is serious from a health point of view", and we must "prevent our healthcare system from becoming saturated".
"Our hospitals are clogged," he added. "The figures are as high as they were in March when we decided on a lockdown, that's what we absolutely want to avoid".
The national lockdown helped bring cases down, but new infections - as well as serious cases involving hospital admissions - are rising again.
Belgium, with a population of 11.5 million, has recorded 191,959 covid cases and 10,327 deaths as of Friday.
As a result of a surge in infections in September, the rate of hospitalisations has accelerated in recent days, particularly in Brussels and Belgium's French-speaking southern provinces.