Belgium shops allowed to reopen but semi-lockdown will stay in place

BRUSSELS: Belgium will allow shops to reopen from tomorrow, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said, but the country's semi-lockdown will remain in place to bring down coronavirus infections.

"The situation in our country is improving... but it's important to keep a lid on things," Mr De Croo said, warning that the Christmas and New Year holidays would be "different" this year.

So far, only retailers of essential goods, such as food, have been allowed to stay open. But the move to allow other shops to resume business mirrors similar easing measures in Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Belgium, home to European Union institutions and located in a busy intersection for European travel, had been one of the worst-hit in a second wave on the continent.

Bars, restaurants and cafes will remain closed, and people will continue to be required to work from home where possible and limit social contacts. A curfew from midnight to 5am will also remain in place.

This year "we will celebrate Christmas with our families, in small numbers. It will be more intimate", Mr De Croo said.

There would also be no fireworks at New Year.

"We mustn't spoil in four days what we've achieved in four weeks," Mr De Croo said, but suggested that a more general easing of restrictions might be possible from mid-January if infection numbers continue to come down.

He also advised people not to travel to other countries with higher caseloads and said that border controls would be put in place and quarantine requirements imposed for travellers returning from virus hot spots.

Belgium has recorded nearly 570,000 infections since the start of the pandemic, but recently appears to be getting the situation under control.

An average 2,765 daily cases were registered last week, just a fifth of the number last month.

Meanwhile, Austria should expect further heavy restrictions when its current lockdown measures expire in just over a week, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told Austrian paper Kleine Zeitung.

Austria's nationwide lockdown is due to be lifted on Dec 7, but it is not yet clear what that will mean for the ski industry - cornerstone of a tourism sector which accounts for some 15 per cent of economic output - or overall life in Austria.

Speaking to Kleine Zeitung, Mr Kurz said Austrians would need to contend with further restrictions for weeks and months, adding new measures to be announced on Wednesday depended on case developments. - REUTERS