Belgium has followed Italy, Spain and France in introducing a lockdown in the wake of concern about the spread of Coronavirus.
Announcing the decision at a press conference on Tuesday evening, Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès said these were “severe measures” and “difficult decisions which have not been taken lightly.”
The move came after Belgium's national security council met on Tuesday afternoon to discuss extended measures against Coronavirus. It follows the shutdown of schools, bars, cafes and restaurants last weekend.
Wilmès told reporters, “I am aware of the effort this requires. We are counting on everyone to be responsible. This is our best chance to put this episode behind us.”
Wilmès said companies should make remote working available for everyone, wherever possible.
An EU travel ban for non-EU citizens has also now come into force, and the first travellers - who landed in Frankfurt from Turkey on Tuesday – were reportedly turned away at the border.
Under EU law, countries are allowed to introduce border controls during emergency situations but are obliged to allow their own citizens to enter and citizens of other EU countries to pass through on their way home.
“I am aware of the effort this requires. We are counting on everyone to be responsible. This is our best chance to put this episode behind us” Sophie Wilmès, Belgian Prime Minister
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, has admitted that political leaders initially “underestimated” the virus.
In an interview with German newspaper Bild, she also said, "We understand that measures that seemed drastic two or three weeks ago, need to be taken now.”
Italy and France are cracking down on people who violate the lockdowns in their respective countries. France is bringing in fines of up to €375 after thousands were found to have gone out without their required permits.
More than 198,000 people have now contracted Coronavirus worldwide
China, Italy and Iran have been the worst hit countries.
Former Irish premier Leo Varadkar has urged people to only access news from trusted sources, expressing concern about the impact of false information about the virus.
He said, “We need to halt the spread of the virus but we also need to halt the spread of fear. So please rely only on information from trusted sources. From government, from the HSE, from the World Health Organization and from the national media.”
He advised, “Do not forward or share messages that are from other, unreliable sources. So much harm has already been caused by those messages and we must insulate our communities and the most vulnerable from the contagion of fear.”
“Fear is a virus in itself.”
Elsewhere, Jeremy Rossman, senior lecturer in virology at the UK’s University of Kent, said it is “striking” that there are only 63 cases reported in all of Russia.
“Given that Russia has very strong travel, emigration, immigration and trade relationships with China, its very low case numbers raise questions, especially as other countries with comparably close relationships (Japan, South Korea and the US) are experiencing significant local transmission.”
“It is interesting that in the 15 countries that share land or sea borders with China only 310 cases have been reported. Only India has reported more than 100 cases (108) and ten countries have reported between zero and five cases. Given that many of these countries have significant trade and travel relationships with China the low level of cases is surprising.”
“Aside from Russia, there are other regions of the world that have not reported any (or many) cases of COVID-19. Of particular note is that in Africa only Egypt has reported over 100 cases (126) with most countries reporting between zero to five cases.”
“For the 54 countries in Africa, there have only been 253 cases out of the 167,519 cases worldwide.”
The main symptoms of the Coronavirus disease include a cough, high temperature and breathing difficulties.
It takes five days on average to start showing signs of the symptoms, scientists have said, but some people will get symptoms much later than this.
The best way to protect yourself is regular and thorough hand-washing, preferably with soap and water.
Coronavirus spreads when an infected person coughs small droplets - packed with the virus - into the air. These can be breathed in, or cause an infection if you touch a surface they have landed on and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
Coughing and sneezing into tissues, not touching your face with unwashed hands, and avoiding close contact with infected people are important for limiting the spread.