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Belgium will allow stores to reopen from December 1, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Friday, but the country's semi-lockdown feature will remain in place to fight coronavirus infections.
"The situation in our country is improving … but it is important to keep things under control," said De Croo, warning that the Christmas and New Year holidays would be "different" this year.
So far, only retailers of essential goods such as food have been allowed to remain open.
The move to allow other stores to resume business reflects similar easing measures in Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
In France, retailers that are not absolutely necessary should also be allowed to raise their shutters from Saturday.
Home to the EU institutions and at a busy crossroads for European travel, Belgium has been one of the hardest hit areas in a second wave of coronavirus on the continent.
Bars, restaurants and cafes will remain closed and people will need to continue working from home whenever possible to limit social interaction. A curfew from midnight to 5:00 a.m. (2300-0400 GMT) also remains in place.
This year, "we will celebrate Christmas with our families in small numbers. It will be more intimate," said the Prime Minister.
There would be no fireworks on New Years either.
"We mustn't spoil in four days what we did in four weeks," De Croo said, but suggested that a more general easing of restrictions could be possible from mid-January if the infection numbers continue to fall.
The prime minister also advised people not to travel to other countries with higher case numbers, saying border controls would be put in place and quarantine requirements would be imposed on travelers returning from virus hotspots.
Belgium has had nearly 570,000 infections since the pandemic began, but seems to be getting the situation under control lately.
An average of 2,765 cases per day were recorded over the past week, just a fifth of the number last month.
And authorities hope to bring these cases down to around 500 a day by the end of the year.
The number of hospital admissions has halved in the past two weeks, and there are currently 4,395 people in hospital, up from 7,500 at the beginning of the month.
The number of coronavirus patients in the intensive care unit is 1,034, from a high of nearly 1,500 on November 9.
In total, more than 16,300 people have died from the virus in Belgium since the pandemic began, 142 of them in a single day on Thursday.
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© 2020 AFP
Belgium will open stores again from December 1st (2020, November 27th)
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