Coronavirus: Belgium to impose virus lockdown from Wednesday

A view of an empty square near Grand Place in Brussels, Belgium, March 17, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - Belgium will impose a lockdown from midday (1100 GMT) on Wednesday (March 18) until April 5 to restrict the movement of people in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Belgians' travel will be limited to visits to supermarkets, pharmacies and banks or for cases of emergency, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes told a news conference on Tuesday.

"The situation has evolved and forced us to take severe measures to stem the spread of the virus," Wilmes said.

Belgium reported 185 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, bringing the total to 1,243. Ten people have died.

Gatherings of people will be forbidden but physical activity, such as walking or cycling, will be allowed outside, provided a distance of 1.5 metres between people is respected.

People will still be able to go to the supermarket, a doctor, a pharmacy, the bank or the post office, to fill up one's car or to help people in need. Supermarkets will have to limit the number of people in stores at any one time.

All companies will have to have employees work remotely as far as possible. Where that is not possible, companies will have to keep their staff at a distance from each other.

Wilmes' administration already closed schools, cafes, restaurants, gyms, cinemas and other places where people gather from last Saturday.

Many businesses have since also closed, particularly non-food shops. Brussels Airlines will suspend flights from next Saturday.

Police will ensure the new lockdown is enforced.

Companies that do not comply will face heavy fines.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.