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Belgium toughened its coronavirus measures Wednesday, making home-working mandatory four days a week and ramping up mask-wearing as the country faces a rapid rise in cases and hospitalizations.
The country’s Consultative Committee said the requirement to work from the office for just one day a week will start from next week and last until December 12. After that, people will be able to work from the office for two days a week.
The new teleworking obligation was a sticking point in the negotiations, with Prime Minister Alexander De Croo supporting three days at home and Health Minister Franck Vandenbroucke pushing for four days. It has also caused a backlash among employers’ organizations, which had lobbied against the move.
De Croo said the “epidemiological situation is in the red” but “fortunately, thanks to the effort of those who got vaccinated — nine in 10 adults are vaccinated — we’re not facing a lockdown.”
He added: “I understand the frustration and disappointment, as lots of people are getting tired.”
Mask-wearing will also be increased. “We are also going towards a very broad face mask obligation,” De Croo said. “This includes indoor areas, but also at events if they take place outside.”
The obligation to wear a mask has been extended to children aged 10 (it was previously 12).
In the hospitality industry, in addition to using a Covid Safe Ticket (CST), staff and customers must wear a mask when they’re not seated. The rule also applies to theatres, concert venues, museums and cinemas. The CST will be required for events attended by at least 50 people indoors and at least 100 people outdoors.
COVID booster shots will be made available to everyone by March or April and the committee called for the vaccination of 5-11 year-olds as soon as possible. Vaccination of young children is subject to approval by the European Medicines Agency.
Last week, Belgium crossed the threshold of 500 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units. The country has 2,000 intensive care beds. The Belgian national health institute registered over 10,000 new daily COVID infections between November 7 and 13.