Belgium announced a slight easing of its coronavirus restrictions on Friday despite record infections and also determined that people will need booster shots after five months to maintain Covid-19 passes giving access to bars or cinemas.
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo extended opening for bars and restaurants to midnight from 11pm, allowed indoor activities such as play areas and bowling alleys to reopen and said venues with good ventilation could host more people than now. The changes will apply from next Friday.
“The reason we can do this is the fact that we have such a high vaccination rate,” De Croo told a news conference, adding that vaccinated people were half as likely to catch Covid-19 and 90 per cent less likely to need to go to hospital if they did.
Some 89 per cent of adults in Belgium are fully vaccinated and 67 per cent have now also received a booster shot.
De Croo said that from March 1 the initial vaccination series would be valid only for five months, with boosters required to keep Covid passes active, although they would still be valid with a test or recent recovery from infection.
That five-month limit is among the tightest in Europe. For neighbouring France, it is seven months, while the EU-wide guide for travel within the bloc is set at nine.
Belgium is in the midst of a fifth wave of Covid infections, with the peak not expected for at least a couple of weeks. Monday brought a record of more than 60,000 reported cases, with similar levels estimated for Tuesday and Wednesday.
However, hospital admissions are rising at a far slower rate and the number of patients in intensive care is falling.
“The figures for hospitals are still fit our most optimistic scenario and the situation is manageable,” virologist Steven Van Gucht of public agency Sciensano told a news conference.
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