Non-essential shops reopen in Belgium as virus numbers drop

Health News

FILE – In this Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020 file photo, healthcare workers perform tests in a tent at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in Antwerp, Belgium. With nothing on their agendas for months to come, organizers of music festivals in Belgium want to use their know-how to help the coronavirus vaccination campaign. The Belgian government has set up the goal to vaccine about 70 percent of the country’s population, the equivalent of eight million people, when efficient COVID-19 shots become available. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)

BRUSSELS (AP) — Non-essential shops in Belgium were reopening Tuesday in the wake of encouraging figures about declining daily coronavirus infection rates and hospital admissions.

The government is fearful, however, that the change might lead to massive gatherings in the nation’s most popular shopping centers and streets. Over the weekend, pre-Christmas light festivals already led to crowded scenes in several cities, prompting warnings from virologists about the dangers of reopening too soon.

Belgium, host to the headquarters of the 27-nation European Union, has been one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe during the pandemic. Belgium has reported more than 16,500 deaths linked to the virus during two surges in the spring and the fall.

Experts say wearing masks and practicing social distancing will be essential in containing the spreading of the virus when shopping returns to a sense of normalcy. Despite the intense infections and deaths the country has seen, people still gather in large numbers and many do not wear masks.

Under the new rules, shopping has to be done alone or with a minor or a dependant person. Time in a shop is limited to half an hour. Restaurants and bars remain closed.

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