Belgium, Italy relaxed some restrictions; WHO emphasizes the need to remain vigilant, Europe News & Top Stories | Instant News

BRUSSELS, ROME, GENEVA • Belgium will allow shops to reopen from tomorrow, but will maintain other coronavirus restrictions during the festive period, including restrictions on gatherings over Christmas and a ban on fireworks at New Year, said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

Countries across Europe have been battling a second wave of infections, and are grappling with keeping their citizens safe while leaving them a little relieved during the holidays.

“If we slack off too quickly, the numbers will increase and then it will be very difficult,” De Croo told a news conference Friday.

“If we have the third wave, it will be worse than the second wave and it will be harder to get out of it.”

While the UK allows up to three households to meet at home over Christmas, Belgian households will be able to get in close contact with just one additional person. People who live alone will be able to meet two other people.

Non-essential shops will be allowed to reopen, but Belgians will have to shop on their own and spend only 30 minutes inside.

Museums and swimming pools can be opened, but fireworks, which are a staple of New Year’s celebrations, will be prohibited to limit gatherings and trips abroad are strongly discouraged. Bars, restaurants, hairdressing salons and sports and cultural centers remain closed.

Covid-19 has claimed 16,219 lives in a country of 11 million people, Europe’s highest confirmed per capita death rate.

Meanwhile, the Italian government will ease anti-Covid restrictions in five regions starting yesterday, including in the country’s richest and most populous region, Lombardy, the Health Ministry said.

Lombardy, Piedmont and Calabria will be downgraded from red to orange zones, while Sicily and Liguria will be demoted from orange to yellow zones, which have the least boundaries.

Friday’s decision followed a gradual decline in Covid-19 hospitalizations across much of Italy over the past week, with the number of new cases also retreating from the highest levels seen earlier this month.

Italy introduced a three-tier zoning system three weeks ago, with calibrated restrictions depending on a variety of factors, including infection rates and hospital occupancy.

Red zone residents are only allowed to leave their homes for work, health reasons or emergencies, while bars, restaurants and most shops are closed.

In the orange zone, people can move freely within the city, but cannot travel to other places. Bars and restaurants are closed, but shops can open.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) technical head for Covid-19, said on Friday that even if countries see a drop in coronavirus cases, they must remain vigilant.

“What we don’t want to see is a situation where you go from a controlled (virus) lockdown to another,” he said at a virtual briefing in Geneva.

“It is our strength to keep transmissions low. We’ve seen dozens of countries show us that it can be controlled and remains under control.”

The agency’s top emergency expert said on Friday that it would be “highly speculative” for the WHO to say the coronavirus did not emerge in China, where it was first identified on the food market in December last year.

China is pushing through the narrative through state media that the virus was overseas before it was discovered in the central city of Wuhan, citing the presence of the coronavirus on imported frozen food packaging and scientific papers claiming to have circulated in Europe last year.

“I think it’s very speculative for us to say that the disease is not emerging in China,” said Dr Mike Ryan at a virtual briefing in Geneva after being asked if Covid-19 first emerged outside of China.

“It is clear from a public health perspective that you started the investigation where the human cases first emerged,” he added, saying that evidence could then lead elsewhere.


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