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The Latest: Belgian Foreign Minister in Intensive Care | World News

BRUSSELS — Belgian Foreign Minister and former Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes has been hospitalized in intensive care with the coronavirus.

Wilmes, who was in charge when the first wave of infections hit the country this spring, now serves in the new government led by Alexander De Croo.

Elke Pattyn, a spokesperson at the Foreign Ministry, told The Associated Press that Wilmes is in a stable condition and conscious. She said her condition “is not worrying.”

The 45-year-old Wilmes, who was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday evening, said last week she thought she got infected within her family circle.

Belgium, a country of 11.5 million inhabitants, has been severely hit by the coronavirus and is currently seeing a sharp rise in new cases. More than 10,000 people have died from coronavirus-related complications in Belgium

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Regulators, experts take up thorny vaccine study issues

— Despite pledges, Czechs face 2nd lockdown as system totters

— Virus spikes have officials looking to shore up hospitals

— Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has overruled his own health minister on the announced purchase of 46 million doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine being tested in Sao Paulo state.

— Ireland is already focused on Christmas. It’s a major national priority. Unless the country can get the COVID-19 epidemic under control, there won’t be much Christmas cheer this year in Galway, Cork or Dublin.

— Poland’s prime minister has signaled that the whole country faces being placed on the highest restriction level short of a full lockdown, as health authorities registered a record in new confirmed COVID-19 infections.

Follow all of AP’s coronavirus pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

LONDON — U.K. Treasury chief Rishi Sunak is expected to announce increased help for bars, pubs and restaurants that have seen business collapse because of COVID-19 controls.

Hospitality businesses are under pressure because the measures severely limit social gatherings, even under the lower levels of restrictions imposed on areas with less severe outbreaks. That reduces the number of people who go out for dinner or to meet up with friends, reducing income and forcing employers to lay off workers.

But most can’t take advantage of current government aid programs, which are focused on businesses that are ordered to close under the highest level of restrictions.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street told the BBC that the support programs were designed with the assumption that the pandemic would ease, reducing the need for government assistance. That didn’t happen and infection rates are now rising across the country.

The government “didn’t expect us to be in a position through the autumn where we were having a rising level of the virus to this extent, so if you look at the design of the winter economy package, at the time that seemed rational but clearly events have moved very quickly.”

BUDAPEST — The number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Hungary has risen above 2,000 for the

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German health minister tests positive for coronavirus

BERLIN (Reuters) – German Health Minister Jens Spahn tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday afternoon, the health ministry said, adding that he had placed himself in home quarantine.

The minister, 40, was suffering from cold-like symptoms, the ministry said. People he had been in contact with were being informed.

A government spokesman said Spahn had attended a cabinet meeting earlier on Wednesday, but other cabinet ministers would not necessarily have to go into quarantine.

“The federal cabinet meets in compliance with hygiene and distance rules, which aim to ensure that even if a person who later tests corona-positive were to participate, quarantining of other or even all participants would not be necessary,” he said.

While Germany’s infection rates are lower than in much of Europe, they have been accelerating and hit a daily record of 7,830 on Saturday, according to the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s federal disease prevention agency.

“My best wishes for @jensspahn,” tweeted Europe Minister Michael Roth. “Hopefully he will be back on board soon. Healthy and committed. We need everyone and anything now in the fight against the #Corona.”

Spahn has urged Germans to stick to social distancing rules to keep infections at a manageable level.

Earlier this month, he said Germans face a “test of character” to contain a surge in the number of coronavirus cases.

Spahn, a popular member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, had been expected to run for the leadership of their Christian Democrats earlier this year but backed Armin Laschet, premier of Germany’s most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia.

The party will pick a new leader in December.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt and Paul Carrel; Writing by Thomas Escritt and Paul Carrel; Editing Peter Graff)

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Italy Prime Minister Conte announces more restrictions as cases surge

A delivery person passes near St. Peter’s Basilica, as Italy tightens measures to try and contain the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Rome, Italy.

Remo Casilli | Reuters

Italy announced a raft of new restrictive measures aimed at curbing a second wave of coronavirus cases.

From Monday, local mayors will have the power to close public areas, such as squares and streets, after 9 p.m. in order to limit public gatherings which have been seen as one of the main reasons for a new spike in coronavirus infections.

Announcing the new restrictions on Sunday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that bars and restaurants are allowed to stay open until midnight (but can be closed earlier if local leaders deem that necessary) if there is table service, but must close at 6 p.m. if not.  Social gatherings in bars and restaurants are restricted to six people per table.

“We mustn’t waste time,” Conte said as he announced the new measures in a televised address. “The country can’t allow another lockdown that would severely compromise the entire economy.”

Other measures introduced include encouraging distance learning for older students and staggered entry times to schools for other pupils. Contact sports at an amateur level remain banned, and gyms and leisure facilities have to adapt to the new measures. Local festivals are banned too.

On Sunday, 11,705 new infections were reported, up from 10,925 on Saturday and 10,010 the day before that, government data shows. Italy has recorded 414,241 cases in total, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Conte said Sunday the strategy being followed now to curb the spread of infections “isn’t, and can’t be, the same as the one implemented in spring.|

Then, at the start of the pandemic, Conte said, Italy hadn’t been prepared with enough intensive care equipment and masks, or able to do enough tests. Since then it had procured equipment, produced and distributed millions of masks among students and carried out up to 160,000 tests per day.

Italy was the epicenter of Europe’s initial coronavirus outbreak in February, with the first clusters of cases seen in Lombardy, before spreading to other regions in northern Italy and further afield into the rest of Europe.

Italy was the first part of Europe to introduce a local, then regional and finally a national lockdown in early March to stop the spread of the virus, meaning that all but food retailers and pharmacies closed and people could only leave their homes for essential reasons.

Italy’s economy has been hit hard by the lockdown earlier this year. The International Monetary Fund’s latest economic forecasts predict that Italy’s economy will contract 10.6%  in 2020.  Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco said in an interview with Bloomberg Friday that it will take at least two years for the country’s economy to get back to pre-Covid levels.

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