BRUSSELS: Belgium must tighten its coronavirus restrictions another notch as the latest surge in cases weighs heavily on health services and deprives people with other life-threatening diseases like cancer of necessary treatment, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Friday.
Kindergartens and primary schools will now close for the holiday season a week early, on Dec.20, and children must wear masks from the age of 6.
The government capped attendance at indoor events at 200 people.
"There are too many people who are not getting the treatment they need in hospital, so it is important to act quickly," De Croo told reporters, noting that 40% of Belgium's intensive care beds are currently filled by COVID-19 patients.
"It's a situation that cannot be tolerated."
It's the third week in a row that De Croo's government has tightened restrictions.
Last Friday, the government closed nightclubs, and ordered bars and restaurants to shut at 11 pm for three weeks.
There had been speculation that closing times of 8 pm were in the works, but the Cabinet decided against it, for now.
According to the latest pandemic figures, the nation of 11 million appears to have reached a plateau.
On a weekly average, 17,862 new daily cases were reported, a rise of 6% over the previous week.
Hospital admissions rose 4%.
More than 3,700 people are hospitalised with the virus, 821 of them in intensive care.
More than 27,000 people have died in Belgium during the pandemic.
Germany's health minister said Friday that more than 1% of the population is currently infected with the coronavirus, and he called on citizens to get vaccinated if they haven't done so yet.
The country confirmed 74,352 new daily COVID-19 cases and 390 additional deaths, figures published by the federal disease control agency showed.
According to the Robert Koch Institute's calculations, some 925,800 people in Germany are considered actively infected with the virus.
Health Minister Jens Spahn noted that the number of unvaccinated residents who are infected and seriously ill is much higher than their share of the overall population.
"If all German adults were vaccinated, we wouldn't be in this difficult situation," he told reporters in Berlin.
Spahn spoke a day after federal and state leaders announced tough new restrictions that largely target unvaccinated people, preventing them from entering nonessential stores, restaurants, sports and cultural venues.
The government also plans to submit a general vaccine mandate for parliament to consider.
Spahn, who is likely to leave office next week when Germany's new centre-left government takes office, has opposed compulsory vaccination and made clear Friday that he would vote against the measure.
About 68.8% of people in Germany are fully vaccinated, while the government has set a minimum target of 75%.
For the first time since the summer, more than 1 million doses were administered on a single day Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Malaysia said Friday it has detected its first case of the new omicron strain of the coronavirus in a foreign student who returned to the country last month after visiting her family in South Africa.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the 19-year-old female transited in Singapore and arrived in Malaysia on Nov 19, where she underwent a COVID-19 test upon arrival.
She was then bussed to her university lodging in northern Perak state with four others and placed under quarantine, he said.
Results the next day confirmed the student was positive for COVID-19, he said.
The bus driver and four others in the vehicle tested negative and were all quarantined, he added.
Khairy noted that the student arrived in Malaysia before South Africa reported its first omicron case to the World Health Organisation.
Following the discovery of the omicron strain, the ministry conducted genomic tests on 74 positive samples at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport between November 11 and 28 to detect the variant, Khairy said.
Tests confirmed Thursday the student, who has since been released from a 10-day quarantine, had the omicron strain, he said.
"What is important is the individual fully complied with home quarantine, is fully vaccinated and was asymptomatic. We have done both automated and manual contact tracing and so far this case is contained," Khairy tweeted.
Malaysia, like many other countries, has tightened restrictions following the discovery of the new variant.
It has banned visitors from eight African nations and requires travelers flying in from high-risk countries to wear a digital tracker device throughout their quarantine.
Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart vaccines.