March 11, 2020 / 9:15 AM / 25 days ago

Belgium has first virus deaths, briefly holds ship

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium reported its first three deaths from coronavirus on Wednesday and briefly held a cruise ship with more than 3,000 people on board in the port of Zeebrugge.

A nurse uses a nose swab on a patient while he sits in his car at a drive-in testing site for coronavirus (COVID-19) at the Regional Hospital Center in Liege, Belgium March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

West Flanders province governor Carl Decaluwe banned anyone from disembarking in the morning as two people who had been in contact with an infected German were in quarantine on the Italian-flagged ship with some 2,500 passengers and 640 crew, .

By early afternoon, he gave the go-ahead for all passengers except those two to visit nearby Bruges after doctors assessed the situation. The two passengers will remain in quarantine.

“It appears there is no problem because the incubation period related to their contact in Germany has elapsed. They have no symptoms and are not sick,” Decaluwe told Reuters.

The liner, owned by Carnival Corp (CCL.N), runs a seven-day cruise taking in Hamburg, Southampton, Le Havre, Zeebrugge and Rotterdam, with mostly German passengers.

Elsewhere in Belgium, a 90-year-old Belgian woman became the country’s first coronavirus fatality, followed by two men, aged 73 and 86. All were in or near the capital Brussels.

Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes’ caretaker government has reinforced measures to stem infections, including a ban on indoor events with more than 1,000 people.

However, there are regional differences in precautions, such as visitor access to care homes, and a dispute over the measures has broken out between Wilmes and Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever, who heads the Flemish separatist N-VA party.

The European Parliament in Brussels has started sending staff home to work remotely.

Belgium now has 314 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

Reporting by Marine Strauss and Philip Blenkinsop, additional reporting by Yves Herman and Jakub Riha; Editing by Robin Emmott, Andrew Cawthorne and Timothy Heritage

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