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Belgium tells people to stay at home until 5 April

19:48 17/03/2020

Belgium has told all residents to stay at home, from 12.00 tomorrow (Wednesday 18 March), to limit the spread of coronavirus.

The measure will apply until 5 April, but could be extended. Police will be responsible for ensuring the measures are respected.

Belgian prime minister Sophie Wilmès said these were "severe measures" and "difficult decisions which have not been taken lightly".

Belgium's national security council met on Tuesday afternoon to discuss extended measures against coronavirus. The move follows the shutdown of bars, cafes and restaurants last weekend.

Essential outings will still be allowed - to buy food and medicine, go to a bank, petrol station or post office, attend a medical appointment, help an elderly relative or go to work if a job cannot be done remotely.

"I am aware of the effort this requires. We are counting on everyone to be responsible," Wilmès said. "This is our best chance to put this episode behind us."

Outdoor exercise - walking, jogging or cycling - will still be "allowed, even recommended", either alone, among members of the same family living together, or with one friend, Wilmès said. Everyone is advised to keep a distance of 1.5m from each other. Public transport will continue to run.

Wilmès said companies should make remote working available for everyone, wherever posssible. Businesses for which this is not possible must respect the rules on "social distancing". Companies that cannot must close.

Non-essential shops must close. Hairdressers can remain open, but can only have one customer at a time. 

Food stores and pharmacies will impose a limit of one customer per 10m² of retail space, and a maximum shopping time of 30 minutes. Shops must close by 22.00. 

Retail federation Comeos says customers should do their shopping alone. Lines will be drawn on the floor to show the minimum one-metre distance to be kept when queuing.

"Social distancing should not be synonymous with social isolation," Wilmès added. "Take care of yourselves and others."

Read more about the latest coronavirus measures in Belgium, and how they affect you, in our comprehensive guide here, updated several times a day.

Written by The Bulletin