Belgium records first coronavirus death

Belgian authorities held a cruise ship with more than 3,000 people on board in the port of Zeebrugge on Wednesday morning over suspected cases of the coronavirus after the country reported its first death from the disease.

Carl Decaluwe, governor of West Flanders province, banned anyone from leaving the ship after its arrival in the northern Belgian port because of two passengers who had been in contact with an infected German and were now in quarantine.

By early afternoon he gave the all-clear for all passengers except the two to disembark to visit nearby Bruges after doctors had assessed the situation. The two passengers will remain in quarantine.

“It appears there is no problem because the incubation period related to their contact in Germany has elapsed. They have no symptoms and are not sick,” Decaluwe told Reuters.

The Italian-flagged ship Aidamar, with some 2,500 passengers and 640 crew, had reached Zeebrugge early on Wednesday.

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The liner, owned by Carnival Corp, runs a seven-day cruise taking in Hamburg, Southampton, Le Havre, Zeebrugge and Rotterdam, with mostly German passengers.

Elsewhere in Belgium, a 90-year-old Belgian woman became the country’s first coronavirus fatality.

Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes announced the death on Twitter, a day after her caretaker government ordered reinforced measures to stem the spread of the virus, including a ban on indoor events with more than 1,000 people.

The linguistically divided country has been without a fully empowered government for more than a year.

There are regional differences in precautions, such as visitor access to care homes, and a dispute over the measures has broken out between Wilmes and Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever, who heads the Flemish separatist N-VA party.

The European Parliament in Brussels has also started sending staff home to work remotely.

Belgium now has 314 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Health authorities said hospitals were treating increasing numbers of patients with respiratory infections.

“This could indicate the start of a real epidemic in our country,” the federal health agency said.

(Reuters)

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