April 27, 2020 / 11:26 AM / a month ago

Belgian COVID-19 hospital entries at lowest since lockdown start

Staff of Belgian care home Le Cinquantenaire Orpea pose for a photo next to an aerial platform installed near the facade of the building allowing people to be in touch with their loved ones while inside their room, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Brussels, Belgium April 27, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgian hospitals admitted the lowest number of COVID-19 patients since the start of the lockdown almost seven weeks ago, figures showed on Monday, a week before the country starts to ease restrictions.

In an encouraging sign, the number of hospital admissions, a key number to monitor the disease’s evolution, fell to 127 on Sunday, the lowest level since March 18. Daily admissions peaked at over 600 at the end of March and have hovered at around 200 for the past week.

The number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases also declined to a month low of 553, although health officials said the decline might be in part due to a weekend effect.

The nation of 11.5 million people closed restaurants, cafes, gyms and schools from March 14 and then ordered that all non-food shops close from March 18.

The government outlined plans on Friday to allow a gradual easing of restrictions from May 4, with a series of phases of further re-opening during the course of the month.

Belgian coronavirus task force spokesman and virologist Steven van Gucht told a news conference on Monday the public should still stay at home as much as possible to avoid circulation of the virus.

“Now that this is almost under control, the measures can be phased out,” he said, adding that measures such as social distancing and wearing masks would have to remain for weeks to come.

Belgium has 46,687 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 7,207 fatalities, making it one of the world’s worst countries in terms of mortality. However, unlike most countries Belgium’s figures include deaths in care homes. These account for more than half of overall fatalities and for 89% of these COVID-19 is only suspected rather than confirmed.

Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Angus MacSwan

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