By Kate Abnett and Marine Strauss
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Sport and cultural facilities in Brussels must close and residents will face a longer curfew from Monday, the regional government said on Saturday, as COVID-19 infections in Belgium continued to surge to record highs.
Belgium, one of the European countries worst hit by COVID-19, is grappling with a new wave of the virus. The country's rate of new cases is at the highest since the start of the pandemic, with a record 15,432 infections recorded on Tuesday, the latest official figures show.
The capital city Brussels, home to the European Union and NATO, is among the country's hardest hit regions.
Rudi Vervoort, premier of the Brussels region, on Saturday ordered gyms and cultural facilities including theatres and cinemas to close, and imposed a curfew of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. The measures will last until Nov. 19.
Masks will once again become mandatory in public spaces in Brussels, shops must shut at 8 p.m., and public gatherings of more than four people are banned.
"The situation is very serious, it cannot remain this way," Vervoort told a news conference.
Belgium's government had already tightened measures on Friday, on top of a nationwide closure of bars and restaurants and a curfew of midnight to 5 a.m.
The government in Belgium's French-speaking region of Wallonia also ordered a tighter 10 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew on Friday and made online learning mandatory for students until Nov. 19.
"The increase in numbers is staggering and we had to act with a partial lockdown," Walloon Minister-President Elio Di Rupo said.
Belgium gives regions substantial autonomy and has nine health ministers, making it difficult to coordinate measures.
The nation of 11 million people had 1,119 new COVID-19 infections per 100,000 residents over the past week. With 10,658 total deaths, Belgium has one of the highest per capita fatality rates in the world.
Before this month, Belgium had not recorded more than 3,500 cases per day. The country is testing more people now than it did in the first wave of the virus, accounting for some, but not all, of the increase in cases.
Luxembourg, which borders Belgium, on Friday also announced a nighttime curfew and curbs on social contacts.
(Reporting by Kate Abnett and Marine Strauss; Editing by Alison Williams)