Belgium closes primary schools a week earlier due to Covid


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Belgium tightened its restrictions on coronaviruses for the third week in a row today to tackle one of the worst spikes in Covid-19 cases in Europe.

“We cannot allow the train of infection which is raging in our country to continue at its current rate,” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said at a press conference.

With cases among children increasing the most, Mr De Croo said mask warrants would apply from age six. Wearing a mask is currently compulsory for people aged 10 and over.

Primary schools will close for the Christmas and New Years holidays a week earlier and high schools will switch to a hybrid system, with half of the classes at home.

On the other hand, bars and restaurants in Belgium, seat of the EU and NATO institutions, will still be able to open until 11 p.m., six hours later than in the Netherlands.

Prime Minister De Croo acknowledged that the infection rate in Belgium was among the highest in Europe.

Only Slovakia and the Czech Republic have higher 14-day average per capita rates, according to data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

However, although more than one in 50 people have been infected in the past two weeks, the death rate is only just above the EU average.

“There is only one reason for this and that is that the vaccination rate in our country is particularly high,” said Mr De Croo.

He added that around four million Belgians should have received reminders by the end of the year.

Experts from the health agency Sciensano said Belgium appeared to have reached a peak in infections and hospitalizations, although the number of patients in intensive care could reach 1,000 in a week.

“It is not clear whether after that we can expect a sharp drop or whether we will just stay on a high plateau,” said virologist Steven Van Gucht.

Increase in Covid testing in UK with Omicron trait

Health officials in Britain said they were this week investigating an increase in the number of Covid-19 test results that have a trait associated with the worrisome variant of the newly identified Omicron coronavirus.

One of Omicron’s mutations produces S-gene target failure (SGTF) in about half of the PCR tests used in the UK, which sets it apart from Delta and provides a clue to the spread of ‘Omicron before full genomic sequencing.

While this is a useful early indicator of the spread of Omicron, SGTF is also associated with other variants, such as Alpha.

“The proportion of test results displaying SGTF has been very low in recent months, but an increase was seen over the past week,” said the British Health Safety Agency (UKHSA).

“This is still a very small number of cases, but is being carefully investigated to understand if this is a trip, some other variant or if there is evidence of the spread of Omicron in the community. “

Vaccines for over 60s should be applied in the Czech Republic

The Czech Ministry of Health is preparing a decree making Covid-19 vaccines compulsory for people over 60, as well as for workers in critical sectors such as medical personnel, police, soldiers and firefighters, reported a local news site.

The government has considered mandatory vaccinations due to the number of vaccinations overdue compared to Western European countries.

People wearing masks on Charles Bridge in Prague

The country of 10.7 million people has been one of the most affected in the world in recent weeks by an upsurge in infections.

Some other European countries have started moving towards compulsory vaccinations, including the Czech Republic’s neighbor Austria, which has made vaccines compulsory for all citizens.

Greece has also made vaccinations against Covid-19 mandatory for people aged 60 and over.

The website said the Czech decree is expected to be released next week, with the vaccine mandate taking effect from March.

But it is doubtful whether it will stay in place long enough to take effect, as the government is set to be replaced by a center-right coalition later this month following elections in October.

The new coalition has spoken out against compulsory vaccination for all age groups.

The Czech Republic has reported 33,450 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic, one of the worst per capita rates in the world.

Slovakia has highest daily infection rate

Slovakia reported 15,278 new cases of Covid-19 today, the highest number in a single day since the start of the pandemic, but the health ministry said a technical glitch had inflated the number.

“The reason for the high number of positive test results today is due to additional data, which did not pass from the laboratories to the information system on November 30,” the ministry said.

The ministry did not specify the actual number of cases detected Thursday.

The country of 5.5 million people has 3,404 people hospitalized for the disease, including 630 in intensive care.

Slovakia has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the European Union.

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