BRUSSELS: A partial return to lockdown in Brussels failed to stem a dramatic new wave of coronavirus infections, so on Monday (Oct 19) bars and restaurants across Belgium were closed for a month.
From midnight, the shutdown will also be reinforced with an overnight curfew, to discourage defiant merry-makers from thronging the streets as the epidemic rages on.
But it is Belgium's second major lockdown, hospitalisations are up 100 per cent week-on-week, and restaurant owners are close to breaking point as they face a grim winter.
"We don't feel like anyone cares. It breaks my heart," said Angelo Bussi as he put the key in the lock of his city centre Brussels eatery late on Sunday and choked back sobs.
"Managers, chefs, dish-washers, everyone is suffering," he told AFP, before shrugging, waving and walking off into the night, declaring: "Ah, well there we are, see you in a month."
Some of the premises that can convert to offering take-away food, like the cafes and sandwich joints around the EU headquarters, were open and doing this trade Monday.
But anywhere one might have gathered to down a Belgian beer or meet friends around a steaming pan of mussels and a plate of chips was closed by order of the new federal government.
Prime Minister Alexander de Croo, facing his first emergency since he cobbled together a ruling coalition more than a year after elections, warned of an "exponential" virus surge.
In a country of only 11.5 million, Belgium already has one of the highest per-capita rates of infection in the world.
"The situation is serious and much worse that it was on Mar 18 when we ordered almost complete confinement," he said Friday, referring to the number receiving intensive care in Belgian hospitals.
He called on all Belgians to do the maximum to limit their social and professional contacts to a bare minimum, to keep down new infections and give health workers space to work.
"The health situation in (the French-speaking region of) Wallonia and Brussels is the worst and therefore the most dangerous in the whole of Europe," Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told RTL TV on Sunday.
By Monday, Belgium had registered 222,253 coronavirus cases – a figure that has doubled in the past month, and 10,413 deaths.
Schools have reopened, but from Monday university campuses will be limited to a fifth of normal student numbers.
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Queen Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh receive Covid-19 vaccine
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Dozens killed in suspected jihadist attack in Niger
Dozens of people were killed in an attack in Niger on Saturday, in a suspected jihadist attack.
The attack took place around 12:00 CET in the Tchomo-Bangou village in Tillabéri, a western region bordering Mali.
“The assailants surrounded the village and killed up to 50 people,” a local radio journalist said anonymously. “The wounded have been evacuated to the hospital in Ouallam.”
It came on the day provisional results for the first round of the presidential election, held on December 27, were released.
Mohamed Bazoum, the candidate for the ruling Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) and a former interior minister, is in the lead with 39.3 per cent of the votes. Bazoum has vowed to strengthen the country’s fight against Islamist groups.
The second round of the election is to be held on February 21.
Niger has been a target for jihadist attacks for years, particularly in the western and southeastern parts of the country.
On December 21, six days before the presidential poll, seven soldiers were killed in Tillabéri. In May 2020, twenty people, including children, were also killed in two of the region’s villages.
Niger votes in presidential and legislative elections
People in Niger began voting in the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday.
Mohamed Bazoum, the right-hand man of outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou is the favourite to win.
The sixty-year-old former interior minister is aiming for outright victory in the first round — something that no candidate has done before.
He’s focussing on security and education.
Over 7 million people are eligible to vote. But some voters, like Gambina Moumouni, simply want a president they can trust.
“We pray to Allah to choose us the president who has the most mercy for the people, a president who will not betray the country and who will not betray the trust of the people, that is our wish. It is also our wish that Allah may help to make the poor, the peasants, the (cattle) breeders happy.
Thirty candidates are standing including two former presidents and two former prime ministers, but according to seasoned observers in the region, the poll is arousing little enthusiasm among the population.
Niger is the world’s poorest according to the UN’s Human Development Index and also one of those hardest hit by climate change.
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