February 2019 photo shows Belgian prime minister Sophie Wilmès
Health measures will be beefed up in Belgium from Wednesday when households will only be allowed close contact with the same five people outside of their homes for a period of four weeks.
The rule, which was announced on Monday, applies only to contact with people when not wearing masks or observing physical distancing.
Prior to the announcement, the limit was set at 15 people per week. The new restriction applies for dining in a restaurant.
According to Belgian daily Le Soir, limits on the number of people residents can have contact with while wearing a face covering and respecting physical distancing vary.
For professional events, and personal festivities such as weddings, the cap is 10 people, down from 50. For indoor cinemas, theatres and concerts, the cap is 100, down from 200, and for external events such as sports competitions, it is 200, down from 400.
It is unclear how the rules will be policed, but it is believed the measures are aimed at making people more conscious of those they have been in contact with to ease contact tracing. Indeed, Belgium will not issue a contact tracing application until September 2020.
The heightened restrictions come as the number of positive cases in Belgium, a country with a population of 11 million, topped 66,000. Since the start of the crisis, some 10,000 people died in Belgium. Testing in Belgium has detected a large proportion of new cases among the younger population.
Belgian prime minister Sophie Wilmès also announced the reinstatement of rules in force during confinement, such as the 30-minute cap on spending time in a shop and the obligation to enter a shop alone, except where accompanying a child or a person in need of assistance.
Wilmès also pointed out that the use of remote working was key to a safe easing of lockdown. “If we limit contacts, we limit the risks,” she said.
Elsewhere, communes in Belgium have introduced their own local rules. The commune of Attert, where many Luxembourg cross-border workers live, has cancelled all public summer events. A curfew has been imposed and people are obliged to wear masks at all times in the province of Anvers, after a cluster was detected.