Madrid Desk, Mar 27 (efe-epa).- Belgium ordered hairdressers and other non-essential businesses to close on Saturday amid a surge in Covid-19 infections while Portugal begins an Easter period void of the usual tourist hustle and bustle.
Elsewhere in Europe, France tried to boost its vaccine rollout by extending it to the over 70s while images of tourists singing in the street after curfew in Madrid caused a stir in Spain.
Covid-19 cases are on the rise in Belgium despite it having some of the strictest measures in the European Union. The cumulative incidence rate in the capital Brussels stands at around 569 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
In a bid to stymie the spread of the virus, authorities have ordered all non-essential business to close up until 25 April. Schools will close again starting Monday, until at least 19 April.
Non-essential travel is already prohibited in the country and bars have been closed for six months. Similarly, restaurants are only allowed to offer takeouts or home deliveries.
Biostatistics expert Geert Molenberghs blames the increase in cases on the arrival of the more virulent British variant of the coronavirus, which the public health institute Sciensano says accounts for 76% of Belgian cases.
“The current rules simply no longer work and for that, we need to take stricter measures,” he told Efe.
PORTUGAL & SPAIN
A gentle easing of Covid-19 restrictions in Portugal has offered little reprieve to the country’s struggling tourism sector, one of the traditional motors of the country’s economy.
Before the pandemic, this is the time of year when crowds of tourists would land in Lisbon or Porto to lap up the spring sunshine and the culture but now the streets are all but empty. The border with Spain remains closed, as are many hotels, while restaurants are only allowed to offer take-aways.
The small trickle of foreign tourists to the country is not without controversy, however. Visitors are allowed to travel to their accommodation while the Portuguese are confined to their towns and cities.
Portuguese authorities hope to gradually lift more restrictions in the coming month
In neighboring Spain, the presence of tourists in the capital Madrid has been the subject of debate for weeks and fresh video footage of what appears to be groups of French tourists singing in the city center after the bars closed at curfew went viral on social media on Friday evening.
The Spanish government announced it would require people arriving from high-risk zones in France by road to present a negative PCR test — as was already the case for flights. Spaniards are not permitted to travel outside their region during the Easter period.
Officials in France extended the vaccination campaign to those between 70 and 75 without underlying health issues as the pressure on hospitals in a number of regions, especially Paris, mounted.
There are 4,766 Covid-19 patients in ICU, according to official data. In some regions, like the capital, hospital occupancy rates are over 100%.EFE-EPA