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Belgium to tighten COVID rules to counter rise of omicron

Belgium will further tighten coronavirus restrictions because of the surging omicron variant, authorities announced Wednesday.

But the country shied away from a full lockdown like in the neighboring Netherlands.

Cinemas, theaters and concert halls will be closed and indoor activities banned in Belgium. Sports fans won't be allowed into stadiums and indoor venues. Shopping will be curtailed with visitors forced to be spread out and groups entering a shop limited to two adults, possibly accompanied by children.

People walk next to a Christmas tree and other decorations in the historical center of Antwerp, Belgium, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. Nations across Europe have moved to reimpose tougher measures to stem a new wave of COVID-19 infections spurred by the highly transmissible omicron variant, with the Netherlands leading the way by imposing a nationwide lockdown. Neighbouring Belgium will hold its government meeting on Wednesday to decide if new measures will be taken. (AP PhotoVirginia Mayo)

Bars and restaurants will be allowed to remain open until 11 p.m. but under limits.

The measures will take effect Sunday. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said that “there is reason for concern. We are facing omicron."

He added that “what we know about it is bad news,” referring to its high transmissibility.

People enjoy fire pits and a smoking cauldron among Christmas decorations in the historical center of Antwerp, Belgium, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. Nations across Europe have moved to reimpose tougher measures to stem a new wave of COVID-19 infections spurred by the highly transmissible omicron variant, with the Netherlands leading the way by imposing a nationwide lockdown. Neighbouring Belgium will hold its government meeting on Wednesday to decide if new measures will be taken. (AP PhotoVirginia Mayo)

“It is a tough package,” virologist Marc Van Ranst said.

But much about the omicron variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness. Scientists say omicron spreads even easier than other coronavirus strains, including delta.

Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic