Downing Street is reportedly considering plans to introduce nationwide curfews inspired by Belgium’s success in stemming a hike in coronavirus cases by shutting up shop early each evening.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has cited the European nation as a model for tackling the health crisis after a curfew “was effective in quelling an aggressive flare-up of the virus in Antwerp”, says The Telegraph.
But sceptics are pointing out that Belgium has recorded a 15% week-on-week rise in the number of daily infections across the country.
What laws did Belgium enact?
Hancock and other ministers “see Belgium as a case study in how to save lives by tough early action to bring down cases”, says The Times.
At the end of July, a curfew was introduced across the entire Belgian province of Antwerp to contain a steady rise in coronavirus cases. All restaurants, bars, cafes and other public venues were ordered to close their doors at 11pm, and citizens were asked to remain at home from 11.30pm until 6am.
In mid-August, as infection numbers fell, the curfew period was eased to 1.30am to 5am.
And the result?
Belgium had the “highest infection rate in Europe at the start of summer but has since brought it down while avoiding the surge in deaths and hospital cases seen in countries such as France and Spain”, says The Times.
The Belgian authorities have recorded just over 90,500 Covid cases since the global pandemic began, according to latest figures.
Meanwhile, the total number of coronavirus-related deaths in the country stands at more than 9,900, which was reported by Channel 4 in June to be the “highest mortality rate per capita from coronavirus in the world”. But this death rate is dropping, alongside the falling infection rate.
As The Guardian reports, Belgium had a “sustained decrease in the number of people recorded as being newly infected in August” – a drop that many experts credit to the curfew and other strict social distancing rules.
However, “the most recent data suggests the country’s success may be short-lived as people return to work and school”, says the newspaper.
The daily average of people testing positive for Covid has risen to 509.7 over the past seven days, a 15% increase on the previous week.
The authorities also recorded an average of 20.6 new hospital admissions per day from 3 to 9 September, up from 16.7 in the week before, according to The Brussels Times.
So is the UK likely to face curfews?
Despite the recent rise in infections in Belgium, the UK government appears to remain impressed by for Brussel’s response to the virus.
During a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday, Jeremy Hunt, the Tory chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, asked Health Secretary Matt Hancock if No. 10 would look to South Korea and Hong Kong as examples of effective governance for avoiding a second wave.
Hancock replied: “In some countries, not only in the Far East but also closer to home, they have seen a rise in cases especially among younger people, taken action and that has turned the curve.
“That’s particularly true, for instance, in Belgium, which we were very worried about a month ago but the case rate has come right down when they put a curfew in place.”
This praise of Belgium has fuelled speculation that Britain may soon face a “nationwide curfew as part of efforts to avoid a second wave”, Metro says.
“People may be banned from going out after 10pm or 11pm to try and keep a lid on the recent surge in cases, which has been attributed to younger people socialising,” the paper reports.