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Belgium starts to plan how to ease coronavirus restrictions
Belgium is to begin planning how - and when - to ease its coronavirus restrictions, with a view to a "gradual" reopening of public life over several months.
Prime minister Sophie Wilmès will bring together a group of high-level experts to "prepare a gradual deconfinement", she told parliament on Thursday.
"We have to start working on a scenario now," she said. "This committee will be chaired by a person from the scientific world, because health will always come first."
Belgian residents have currently been told to stay at home until 19 April, but this is likely to be extended to at least 3 May. The number of new infections, hospitalisations and available intensive care beds over the coming weeks will be a determining factor.
Economy minister Nathalie Muylle has already put forward a possible scenario whereby schools would reopen first. Next, remote workers would be allowed to return to their offices.
Then non-essential shops would open, followed by restaurants and cafes. Reinstating big public events such as music festivals would be the last step.
Another option on the table is to ease the stay-at-home restrictions for certain groups, while encouraging at-risk residents to stay indoors, such as the elderly.
None of this is likely to happen on 19 April. "If the rate of the disease's spread decreases quickly, we might be able tell people to go out in a month, a month and a half," said Jean-Luc Gala, from UC Louvain university.
"There is no way that we can let go of everything from one day to the next," said interfederal spokesman Emmanuel André earlier on Thursday. "If that happened, we would see a rebound of the epidemic which would be at least as important as the one we see today."