Belgium will ban non-essential travel to and from the country from Wednesday in an effort to limit the spread of highly contagious coronavirus variants, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced on Friday.
The ban runs until March 1 and applies to land, sea and air travel but does not affect frontier workers or people with compelling health or family reasons.
“We will not build a wall around Belgium. We can go to other countries but only for essential reasons,” De Croo told a news conference on Friday.
The announcement comes a day after an EU summit with video conference where leaders decided to block travel across the EU’s internal borders.
Instead, they “discouraged” non-essential travel within the EU, warning that they could strengthen the line in the coming days if the worrying virus variants took hold.
The EU wants to avoid a repeat of the pandemic’s first wave in March last year, when several member states panicked and closed unilateral national borders, triggering travel and economic chaos.
Travel to the EU is already severely limited.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control has warned that there is a “very high” probability that the more contagious variants will spread in the block.
These mutations – which emerged in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil – have already led to bans or restrictions on travelers from these countries.
De Cross said that Belgium would tighten the rules for people arriving from countries where the more transferable variants have been found, with a mandatory ten-day quarantine.
Deadly British variant
For most of the EU, the variants are currently a small number of overall cases, but the British variant has spread rapidly in Ireland and Portugal. The latter country is located in the EU’s passport – free Schengen area.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday that new medical information about the variant that dominates his country showed that it can be 30 percent more lethal than previous strains.
The EU has blocked everyone except goods or travelers on significant journeys from entering the bloc from the UK, a former member outside the bloc’s rules of freedom of movement.
Belgium – a country of 11.5 million divided between Germany, France and the Netherlands – is particularly worried that it could be vulnerable to cross-border infections, especially during a holiday in February.
It has recorded one of the world’s highest death tolls during the pandemic. However, closing bars and restaurants since October along with night time has reduced infection and hospital cases over the past two months.
“The situation has stabilized in recent weeks,” De Croo said, “but that does not mean the danger has disappeared.”
Belgian citizens and residents returning to the country must already have a Covid-19 test on arrival, isolate themselves for a week and then take a new test.
Others arriving must also show a negative Covid-19 test before taking a flight to Belgium.
Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said a person who tested positive for Covid-19 must now be quarantined for ten days instead of seven as before “because the new (British) variant is more contagious, longer”.
( Jowharwith AFP)