BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgium is banning residents from taking vacations abroad until March to limit the spread of more infectious coronavirus variants and avoid a deadly third wave of COVID-19 cases.
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told a news conference on Friday the government had decided to prohibit travel into or out of Belgium for recreation or tourism from Jan 27 to March 1.
The country wants to avoid a repeat of last winter when Belgians went on Alpine ski holidays, bringing the virus back with them, or the Christmas-New Year period when 160,000 residents ignored government advice and took trips abroad.
“When people travel, the virus travels with them and we also have seen, from sampling of tests, that people who have travelled show more cases of the variants than those that have not,” De Croo said.
People can still cross borders for essential trips, such as for work or for medical treatment.
Belgium, the prime minister said, had one of the lowest rates of infection in Europe, but the danger had not gone away and measures had to be adjusted to avoid a third wave.
Belgium will also tighten rules on people arriving from Britain, South Africa or South America, where more transmissible variants have been found, with a mandatory 10-day quarantine.
De Croo gave a glimmer of hope for hairdressers and parlours. They may be allowed to reopen on Feb. 13, but under far stricter conditions and subject to a decision on Feb. 5.
Belgium has one of the world’s highest per capita death tolls from COVID-19. It has had nearly 700,000 cases and more than 20,000 deaths.
But it now has a lower rate of infections than its neighbours and has avoided the total lockdowns of Britain, the Netherlands and Germany.
In Belgium, cafes and restaurants have been closed since mid-October, but all shops and schools can open.
The national health agency said the coronavirus figures were too still high to ease measures.
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(Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine and Philip Blenkinsop, editing by Robin Emmott and Hugh Lawson)