Brussels imposes curfew on bars as coronavirus cases soar

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BRUSSELS (AP) — Facing a surge of new coronavirus cases far higher than in other parts of Belgium, Brussels authorities are closing bars early in the EU institutions capital city.

Beginning Monday night, all bars and cafes have to close between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. while any other businesses selling drinks or food will shut down at 10 p.m. In addition, eating at street markets is now forbidden.

Local media said authorities thought about starting the bar curfew at 10 p.m. but the proposal was rejected to support virus-ravaged businesses. According to the Belgian cafes federation, half of the country’s 12,000 bars may not survive the coronavirus crisis.

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 114,000 coronavirus infections have been recorded in hard-hit Belgium — a country of 11.5-million residents — including 9,980 deaths. From Sept. 17-23, 11,934 new infections were diagnosed, with the biggest spike in Brussels, where the positive rate now averages 9.7% compared to 4.7% in the whole of Belgium.

“Currently in the Brussels region we have roughly 10% of positive tests. This is extremely important and confirms that the virus is circulating in the capital, it’s not only due to an increase in the number of tests,” said Yves Van Laethem, a spokesman from the COVID-19 crisis center.

Local authorities also announced increased testing across the city and will enforce the ban on gatherings of up to 10 people, especially when the bars close.

The move came only days after Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes relaxed some virus restrictions at a national level. Starting Thursday, Belgium no longer will require people to wear a mask outdoors except in crowded places. The government also reduced the mandatory quarantine period from 14 days to one week for people with COVID-19 symptoms who eventually test negative for the virus.

Health experts urged Belgian residents and employers to keep implementing social distancing and back remote working when possible.

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