March 12, 2020 / 10:01 PM / 22 days ago

Belgian government says schools, restaurants, clubs to close due to coronavirus

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium’s government on Thursday ordered schools, cafes and restaurants to close and tighter business hours for shops due to the coronavirus, following decisions by France and other European countries to limit all but essential activities.

The measures take effect from Friday at midnight central European time and run until April 3, although schools are set to be shut for five weeks, including the Easter holidays, Belgium’s caretaker prime minister, Sophie Wilmes, told a news conference.

“There is no lockdown,” Wilmes said, emphasizing that supermarkets and pharmacies would remain open and other shops would be required to close only on weekends. “We want to avoid the Italian situation and avoid lockdowns.”

The number of people infected with the virus in Belgium is 399, putting the spread of the disease at an earlier stage than in other parts of Europe. Three people have died so far.

Belgium’s government was torn between keeping schools open, as in the Netherlands, or closing them, as in France, and opted for closure, arguing that such steps would avoid a bigger crisis.

As in neighbouring the Netherlands, all sporting and cultural activities, such as Brussels’ famed Atomium and Magritte museums, will be closed from Saturday morning for the next three weeks.

Reporting by Robin Emmott, Marine Strauss and Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Sandra Maler and Matthew Lewis

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