Belgian police use water, tear gas on COVID-19 protesters

BRUSSELS — Belgian police used water cannon and tear gas Sunday to disperse some rowdy protesters in Brussels after most demonstrators marched peacefully to protest tightened COVID-19 restrictions that aim to counter a surge of coronavirus infections.

Thousands came to reject the new measures announced Friday, the third week in a row that the government has tightened its rules as an avalanche of new cases strains the country’s health services, depriving people with other life-threatening diseases of treatment.

Shouting “Freedom! Protesters shouted “Freedom!” while carrying banners reading, “United to protect our rights, freedoms, and children,” as they marched towards the European Union Headquarters. Others carried signs condemning vaccines, and urging against mandatory vaccination.

The main crowd in Sunday’s mostly peaceful march had already dispersed when about a 100 protesters ran into a riot police barricade cordoning off access to the European Commission. Protesters hurled trash, other items, and a bicycle at officers after a short standoff. They also set off flares and firecrackers. To disperse the protesters, police used tear gas and water cannon to extinguish them. No injuries were reported immediately.

On Friday, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced that day care centers and primary schools will close for the holiday a week early, and children must now wear masks from the age of 6. Indoor events will only be allowed with a maximum of 200 people.

Previously, the government closed nightclubs, and ordered bars and restaurants to shut at 11 p.m. for three weeks. There was speculation that the closing hours would be moved to 8 pm, but it was rejected by cabinet members.

According to the latest coronavirus figures, the EU nation of 11 million appears to have reached a plateau.

On a weekly average, 17,862 new daily cases were reported in Belgium, a rise of 6% over the previous week. The number of hospital admissions increased by 4%. More than 3,700 people are hospitalized with the virus, 821 of them in intensive care. More than 27,000 people with the virus have died in Belgium since the outbreak began last year.

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