By Yves Herman and Marine Strauss
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The Belgian government will convene on Friday to decide on a potential new national lockdown with the country now suffering the highest rate of coronavirus infections per 100,000 citizens, according to official data.
The nation of 11 million people had 1,390 new COVID-19 infections per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks, data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control showed on Tuesday.
The Czech Republic is next with 1,379 per 100,000, while many other European countries are reporting soaring infection rates in a second wave of the global pandemic abetted by the onset of cold, damp winter weather.
New daily infections in Belgium, where the European Union and NATO have their headquarters, hit a peak of more than 18,000 on Oct. 20, almost a 10-fold rise from the high of a spring wave of the pandemic.
The number of patients in intensive care units (ICUs) is doubling every eight days - to 809 as of Monday - with 5,260 people in hospitals, which risk running out of beds. Belgian foreign affairs minister and former PM Sophie Wilmes was still in intensive care in Brussels, after testing positive to COVID-19 last week.
In Liege, the Belgian city with the highest number of COVID-19 infections, hundreds of patients are admitted daily, its main hospital said in a Facebook post.
If the rate of hospitalisation continues at this rhythm, the hospital said it would head "straight into a wall," according to the Facebook post.
"What's complicated is that we constantly have to open new units, put in place new teams of nurses and doctors, to take care of those patients, and this flow of patients is in the end continuous," Christelle Meuris, an infectious disease specialist who oversees a COVID-19 unit at the hospital, told Reuters.
With 10,899 total deaths, Belgium has one of the highest per capita COVID-19 fatality rates in the world.
The federal cabinet will meet on Friday to further tighten measures to curb COVID-19 contagion, a week after tightening curbs on social contacts by banning fans from sports matches and limiting numbers in cultural spaces.
The government of the Wallonia region imposed a longer night curfew while in the capital Brussels, all sport and cultural facilities were ordered on Saturday to close and residents were subjected to a longer curfew from Monday.
(Reporting by Yves Herman and Marine Strauss with additional reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Mark Heinrich)