By Agnes Szucs
BRUSSELS (AA) – Coronavirus cases in Belgium, which unveiled new social distancing measures last week amid a surge in infections, have surpassed 70,000, health authorities said on Tuesday.
According to the latest figures by national public health institute Sciensano, as many as 70,317 people have been infected with the novel virus since the outbreak in the country of 11.5 million people.
On a daily average, 517 new cases were diagnosed between July 25 and 31 – a 60% increase compared to the previous week.
The number of infections has been continuously rising since the beginning of July. The week before, an average of 370 new patients was registered, representing another 60% increase in comparison with the previous seven days.
In the second half of July, an average of 51.2 new daily cases per 100,000 inhabitants were confirmed – 198% rise from the first two weeks of the month.
Last week, the federal government imposed new restrictions on public life in order to prevent a second outbreak.
The numbers allowed to attend public events was halved to 100 for inside and 200 for outside, while masks became compulsory in crowded outdoor spaces.
In addition, people were urged to work from home as much as possible, and shoppers asked to run errands alone.
Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said the measures were aimed at avoiding a new general lockdown.
Belgium, where the European Union has its headquarters, imposed a lockdown on March 18. Restrictions started to be lifted in early May.
The measures hit particularly hard the hospitality sector. According to the estimates by the Federation of the Brussels Food Service Industry, around 1,200, or 30% of the restaurants and bars in the capital Brussels could close down by September.
The virus that first appeared in Wuhan, China last December has spread to 188 countries and regions, according to the US-based Johns Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Center.
More than 18.2 million virus cases have been confirmed worldwide, with over 694,000 deaths, and nearly 11 million recoveries.
Some 9,850 people have also died of the virus in the Western European country, with 17,598 having recovered.