'Masks off': Belgium loosens COVID-19 restrictions despite infection rate rise

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By Christopher Pitchers
Belgium prime minister Sophie Wilmes
Belgium prime minister Sophie Wilmes   -  Copyright  Olivier Hoslet/AP

Belgium announced a loosening of coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, despite the country's rising infection rate.

Face masks will only be mandatory in crowded places from October 1, the country's prime minister Sophie Wilmes said on Wednesday. Currently, the masks are required everywhere at all times.

But, despite the easing of restrictions outdoors, masks will still have to be worn in shops, cinemas and on public transport.

Wilmes said the quarantine period for carriers of the virus and potentially infected people will be reduced from 14 to seven days.

"Some other countries take harsher measurements, locally or partially in lockdown, for example, in Spain," she said.

"For this reason, we must remain vigilant. The corona pandemic is not over yet. This is the situation. The virus is not going away, but life must restart eventually."

Coronavirus numbers have been on the rise in Belgium, with infections rising dramatically in the past week by 65 per cent.

This was reflected in the government's revision of the so-called "bubble of five measure" - the rule determining how many people you can have close contact with - which will now be set depending on the situation of the virus in the country.

Belgium's government announced earlier this week that, from Friday, it would drop its outright ban on travel to high-risk areas for catching coronavirus. It will instead "strongly discourage" travel to such places.