Belgium passes 2,000 coronavirus cases, deaths mount

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 20 2020 08:32 PM

Belgium passes 2,000 coronavirus cases, deaths mount 1
A man walks with his luggage through an almost empty railway station, after Belgium imposed a lockdown to slow down the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Antwerp, Belgium March 18, 2020. Francois Lenoir, Reuters

BRUSSELS - The number of coronavirus disease cases recorded in Belgium surged past 2,000 on Friday and the number of deaths jumped by 16 to 37, authorities said.

According to the country's national crisis center, 462 new confirmed cases of the virus have been reported, bringing the total to 2,257 in a country of 11.4 million people.

Two-thirds of the new cases overnight were in Dutch-speaking Flanders, in northern Belgium.

Emmanuel Andre, a spokesman for the crisis center, said Belgium was better prepared than Italy had been when it became the focus of the European outbreak, but that hospitals would need more space for the most serious cases.

In the past 24 hours, another 203 people have been admitted to hospital in Belgium, and 164 of them will require intensive care, such as breathing assistance.

"The average age of those hospitalized is around 60," he said. "In Belgium, we have 1,900 beds equipped with ventilators, and places are being set up today to increase this number."

"We are expecting demand to increase in the coming days," Andre warned.

Europe is now the epicenter of the pandemic that emerged in China in December, with Italy now the hardest country.

Belgium is now one of several European countries to order a national lockdown, although one less sternly enforced than in neighboring France -- and with more exceptions.

Already, bars and restaurants are shut and many people have been asked to work from home and to avoid socializing and crowds, but officials expect the measures to tighten.

"Everyone should respect these measures, and in my opinion, exceptions to the rules will come to an end in the coming days," another crisis center spokesman Benoit Ramacker said.