Belgium's emergency measures 'not a lockdown' insists PM

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By Joanna Gill
Belgium Virus Outbreak
Belgium Virus Outbreak   -   Copyright  Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Belgium has brought in some of the strictest measures outside of Italy, in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The caretaker government is shuttering bars, restaurants and clubs, cancelling sporting events, and effectively closing schools.

"Lessons are therefore suspended. The supervision of children will be ensured by people who work in the field of care," Sophie Wilmes, the Belgian prime minister, told reporters.

Creches will remain open and the government has warned against grandparents looking after young children.

Workers have been asked to stay home, or stagger their hours.

Starting from Saturday, only supermarkets and pharmacies will stay on normal service. Non-essential shops will close on the weekends, but remain open weekdays.

The prime minister stressed it was not an Italian-style lockdown.

However, the impact on small businesses is likely to be huge. Unions representing their interests are calling on the state to provide financial relief.

The government has defended taking the drastic measures.

"When we take measures which upset the structure of society as we have just done today, we do it first because it is necessary, we do it on the basis of scientific recommendations to avoid that the situation is more serious afterwards, and we are doing so eminently together that all of us can move forward together," said Wilmes.

At the time of writing, Belgium has 157 new infections, bringing the total tally to 556 cases, which authorities say underestimates the real number. To date, three people have died in Belgium due to COVID-19.