On Thursday, March 12, Belgium's Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès announced that all recreational activities will be canceled, and all restaurant and cafes will be closed from Friday, March 13, until Friday, April 3, due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Only shops providing essential services, such as pharmacies and food stores, will be allowed to remain open. Other shops will continue to be open on weekdays but will be required to close on weekends. The government has also ordered for all schools to be suspended and will offer care services for students whose parents are unable to look after their children during school hours. Grandparents have been discouraged against taking care of their grandchildren during this period.
Belgium authorities announced on Monday, March 2, that the country was entering stage 2 (second highest level) of its health risk containment strategy, which allows the government to take official measures to limit the spread of the virus.
As of Thursday, the Federal Public Service Health, Food Chain Safety and Enviroment has confirmed 399 cases of the virus nationwide. Further international spread of the virus is expected in the coming days and weeks.
The first case of COVID-19 was reported on December 31 and the source of the outbreak has been linked to a wet market in Wuhan (Hubei province, China). Human-to-human and patient-to-medical staff transmission of the virus have been confirmed. Many of the associated fatalities have been due to pneumonia caused by the virus.
Cases of the virus have been confirmed in numerous countries and territories worldwide. Virus-screening and quarantining measures are being implemented at airports worldwide, as well as extensive travel restrictions. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the global outbreak a pandemic.
Pneumonia symptoms include dry cough, chest pain, fever, and trouble breathing. Pneumonia can be contagious and can be transmitted from human to human. The influenza virus, or the flu, is a common cause of viral pneumonia.
Measures adopted by local authorities evolve quickly, and are usually effective immediately. Depending on the evolution of the outbreak in other countries, authorities are likely to modify, at very short notice, the list of countries whose travelers are subject to border control measures or entry restrictions upon their arrival to the territory in question. It is advised to postpone nonessential travel due to the risk that travelers may be refused entry or be subject to quarantine upon their arrival or during their stay.
To reduce the risk of transmission, travelers are advised to abide by the following measures:
- Frequently clean hands by applying an alcohol-based hand rub or washing with soap and water.
- When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue; if used, throw the tissue away immediately and wash hands.
- If experiencing a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, seek medical care urgently and share your previous travel history with your health care provider.