Belgian health officials on Monday warned intensive care units in the country may get full in two weeks, after the country reported daily average of COVID-19 cases neared 12,500.

According to the data of the National Public Health Institute, which publishes daily average of infections per week, the figure reached 12,491 in the week of Oct. 16-22 in the country with a population of 11.4 million.

Belgium on Oct. 20 reported the highest daily rise — 18,217 infections — since the beginning of the pandemic.

The country of over 11 million has recorded 321,031 cases so far, including 10,810 deaths — the highest per capita fatality rate in Europe.

The occupancy rate of hospitals also continues to increase with 4,827 people currently are under COVID-19 treatment in hospitals across the country, while 757 of them in intensive care.

Belgian officials, reminding the burden on the health system, called on the public to comply with the measures taken.

“By the end of this week, the number of patients in intensive care will exceed 1,000. If we do not change our behavior, we will see the maximum capacity of 2,000 in intensive care in two weeks,” said Yves Van Laethem, the spokesperson for Belgium Crisis Center.

The country tests an average of 80,000 people every day, said Van Laethem, adding that approximately one out of every five tests is positive.

The occupancy in hospitals tends to rise, as the disease spreads not only among the young but also among the elderly, he noted.

Schools moving to distance learning

The country has taken series of measures in education. All 3rd graders in middle schools, all high school students, and 3rd year university students in the French-speaking Walloon region and Brussels will switch to distance learning.

The decision on distance education has not yet been announced in the universities in the Flemish region.

Also, school trips, courses for children over the age of 12, and many activities outside of school were canceled. In-person education will continue in kindergartens and primary schools.

A one-week school holiday, starting at the beginning of next week, has been extended, and classes will resume on Nov. 12, instead of Nov. 9, while the holiday can still be extended further.

The country has taken some additional measures to contain the infections.

For four weeks, restaurants, cafes, and bars across Belgium will be closed. Belgium also imposed a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. with close contacts limited to one person outside the family and people working from home when possible.

Additional measures were taken in the Brussels region, such as temporary closure of places of worship, allowing only 15 people to attend funerals, closing sports facilities, suspending cultural activities in places such as cinemas, museums, and exhibition halls.

* Writing by Busra Nur Bilgic Cakmak in Ankara.

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