Belgium to unlock 1 billion euros for hospitals

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgium’s newly formed federal government will provide 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) urgently to help hospitals face the coronavirus crisis as the situation in the coming days become “extremely intense” for healthcare services, it said on Friday.

Priority is being given to healthcare measures but Belgium will have to go through an economic crisis, Belgian prime minister Sophie Wilmes told a news conference.

Emergency moves to support the economy during the crisis would cost the federal government up to 10 billion euros, David Clarinval, federal minister for budget said. Fiscal measures could cost 4.5 billion euros, along with additional ones to support the unemployed and self-employed.

Belgium recorded 16 new coronavirus deaths on Thursday, taking the death toll to 37, the biggest daily rise since the beginning of the epidemic, a spokesman for the health ministry said on Friday. The number of infected stood at 2,257.

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Remote working has become mandatory for all companies and social distancing measures must be implemented or companies will have to shut and could be fined.

The health ministry spokesman said the coming days would be “extremely intense” because the number of patients in hospitals will continue to increase but hospitals were ready to cope, with a total capacity of 1,900 beds, at least at the beginning.

Belgium imposed lockdown measures on Wednesday to contain the spread of coronavirus.

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