Belgians told to pick one 'cuddle contact' as country goes back into lockdown

Belgium is set to go into another national lockdown next week but people are being told they can nominate ‘cuddle contacts’ who are still allowed to visit private homes. 

People living alone are being allowed two ‘cuddle contacts’ who they are permitted to invite around their house, while everyone else is allowed one.

All other gatherings must take place outside the home, with a maximum of four people allowed to meet up at any one time.

Belgium has been hit by the worst coronavirus outbreak in the world, relative to its small population. There have been 392,000 cases and 11,300 deaths, according to the Worldometer website. 

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The new restrictions will come into force overnight on Sunday. Non-essential businesses are being forced to close and it will be mandatory for people to work from home. 

Restaurants and bars have already been shut since earlier this month. Close contact services such as hairdressers will join them under the new rules. Half-term holidays for schools will be extended to November 15.

‘These are last-chance measures if we want to get the figures down,’ said Prime Minister Alexander de Croo, warning that the new rules would stay in place for at least a month and a half.

Belgium, with a population of 11.5 million, now has as many hospital cases as at the peak of the pandemic’s first wave in April.

There were 6,187 patients in hospital on Friday, 1,057 of them in intensive care. Over the last week the country has recorded more than 100,000 new infections – more than 15,000 per day on average.

Mr De Croo said: ’Our country is in a state of health emergency. The pressure in the hospitals is immense and the medical staff are making superhuman efforts to save lives every day. By mid-November, there will be 2,800 people in intensive care.’

Belgium has begun shifting small numbers of intensive care patients to neighbouring EU countries, but all of Europe is now facing a second wave of the disease and hospital bed space is running out.

In mid-October a curfew was imposed between midnight and 5:00 am, and cafes and restaurants had been ordered to close.

But in recent days the country has been divided over how to deal with the crisis.

Last Friday, even as experts were calling for the ‘electroshock’ of a total lockdown, De Croo announced new restrictions limited to sports and recreation – leaving shops and schools open.

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