On Wednesday, September 23, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes announced some adaptations to the country's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions. The changes largely eased restrictions, despite a recent increase in reported cases in the country. As of Wednesday, the number of days individuals displaying COVID-19 symptoms or people who have been in close proximity to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 will be required to self-isolate for has been reduced from 14 days to seven. From October 1, face coverings will no longer be required in crowded outdoor public spaces unless specifically directed by local authorities. Face masks still have to be worn in shops, cinemas, public transport, and other enclosed public spaces.
Other domestic restrictions remain in place. Individuals are allowed close contact with up to five people they do not live with per month, although this number is now subject to change depending on the infection rate in the country. Public gatherings of over ten people are prohibited and organized events of up to 200 people are permitted indoors and up to 400 outdoors.
Earlier this week the government announced that from Friday, September 25, a ban on travel to countries or regions with high infection rates, or 'Red Zones', will be replaced by strong discouragement not to travel to these areas. Arrivals from these areas must take a COVID-19 test on arrival and quarantine for seven days, before taking a second test. Full details on travel restrictions can be found on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Tarde, and Development Cooperation's website.
As of Thursday, September 24, there have been 106,887 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Belgium, and 9959 associated fatalities. Further international spread of the virus is expected in the near term.
The first case of COVID-19 was reported on December 31 and the source of the outbreak has been linked to a wet market in Wuhan (Hubei province, China). Since then, human-to-human transmission of the virus has been confirmed.
Cases of the virus have been confirmed in numerous countries and territories worldwide. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the global outbreak a pandemic. Virus-screening and quarantining measures are being implemented at airports worldwide, as well as extensive travel restrictions.
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, dry cough, and tiredness. Some patients may experience other symptoms such as body pains, nasal congestion, headache, conjunctivitis, sore throat, diarrhea, loss of taste or smell, or a rash on skin or discoloration of fingers or toes. These symptoms (in most cases mild) appear gradually. Generally, most patients (around 80 percent) recover from the disease without being hospitalized.
Measures adopted by local authorities evolve quickly and are usually effective immediately. Depending on the evolution of the outbreak in other countries, authorities are likely to modify, at very short notice, the list of countries whose travelers are subject to border control measures or entry restrictions upon their arrival to the territory in question. It is advised to postpone nonessential travel due to the risk that travelers may be refused entry or be subject to quarantine upon their arrival or during their stay.
To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, travelers are advised to abide by the following measures:
- Frequently clean hands by applying an alcohol-based hand rub or washing with soap and water.
- When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue; if used, throw the tissue away immediately and wash hands.
- If experiencing a fever, cough, difficulty breathing, or any other symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness, including pneumonia, call emergency services before going to the doctor or hospital to prevent the potential spread of the disease.
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