"We are confronted with a situation now that is worse than the most pessimistic view of the experts from only two weeks ago," Belgian premier Alexander De Croo told a news conference, saying that the strain on the health service was mounting. "If we did not have such a high rate of vaccination today, we would be in an absolutely drastic situation."
The new measures, which enter force on Saturday for three weeks, come just a week after a previous package of coronavirus restrictions, including enforcing wider use of masks and more working from home. Under the new rules, Christmas markets, cultural sites, bars and restaurants will have to close at 11 p.m., with a maximum of six people per table. Private parties and gatherings are also banned, unless they are for weddings or funerals.
In addition, Belgians will have to do shopping on their own. The country's health ministers will meet on Saturday to discuss accelerating the roll-out of vaccine booster doses. Primary school teachers and childcare staff may be given priority.
Belgium, home to European Union institutions and the headquarters of NATO, has the sixth-highest number cases per capita rate in Europe, behind the likes of Austria and Slovakia that have re-entered lockdowns. Around one in 60 people were infected over the past 14 days, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. The fatality rate though is just below the EU average, with 75% of the population vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Belgian government will meet again on Dec. 15 to review the situation.