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Confirmed: Belgium set to ease coronavirus restrictions in phases - starting 4 May

22:01 24/04/2020

Belgium will gradually ease its coronavirus restrictions, in phases, from 4 May, Belgian prime minister Sophie Wilmès has announced.

The new measures came after a seven-hour meeting of Belgium's national security council.

Wilmès said the easing of measures will be "progressive", "evolutive" - some measures will have to be adapted depending on the virus's spread - and "not definitive", adding: "We can never exclude the possibility of taking a step back."

"We had made seven weeks of sacrifices," Wilmès said. "It is time to look to the future."

She added: "What is sure is that things will not return to normal in the short or medium term."

The following dates are provisional. They depend on the daily figures on hospitalisations and the virus's spread.

Phase 1a - from 4 May 

We should stay at home, as now. Remote working remains the norm and schools remain closed. Firms providing business-to-business services, without public contact, can reopen, while maintaining social distancing rules.

Facemasks are required on all public transport in Belgium. Children under the age of 12 are not required to wear a mask. In the absence of a facemask, a scarf worn over the mouth and nose is acceptable. Fabric shops may open. This is to allow those who want to make their own facemasks to do so.

Other open-air sport activities besides walking, jogging and cycling are allowed, such as basketball or frisbee, but are restricted to two people, or three people if two of them live under the same roof. 

Phase 1b - from 11 May

All shops may re-open, under strict hygiene conditions, including limiting the number of customers in the shop at any given time, similar to the current measure for supermarkets. This means that the restriction on movements is also relaxed to allow shopping.

Contact tracers begin. Contact tracers will be tasked with informing people that they have come into contact with someone who has symptoms of or tested positive for the coronavirus. A smartphone app for citizens is not being considered for now.

Phase 2 - from 18 May

Museums would be allowed to reopen, as would professions requiring close contact with the public, such as hairdressers. Private gatherings with friends and family, at home, could be allowed, as well as possible relaxation of the rules on weddings and funerals. Sporting activities could be extended to more than two people outside your immediate family. Second home visits could be allowed again - and it is proposed that short leisure trips within Belgium, such as to the coast or the Ardennes, could be allowed from this date.

Some primary and secondary school pupils can return to class - a maximum of three year groups per school, to be defined by each language community, with priority for final-year students. Nursery schools will remain closed until at least the end of May. Pupils aged 12 and over must wear a mask all day. Class sizes will be limited to 10 children, with at least 4m² of space per pupil and 8m² for the teacher.

Phase 3 - at the earliest 8 June

Authorities will consider a potential reopening of restaurants. Cafes and bars would follow at a later date. By June, more details will be announced about summer holiday travel plans. This phase is dependent on the success of the previous phases in controlling the spread of the virus.

Social distancing rules maintained

Throughout the deconfinement process, it remains essential that you reduce the number of people you see - and respect a safe distance of at least 1.5m, as well as maintaining basic hygiene measures: washing hands with soap and sneezing into your elbow and using disposable tissues.

Belgium "strongly encourages" wearing masks in busy public places where social distancing cannot be guaranteed. Masks will be compulsory on public transport from 4 May for everyone aged 12 and over.

Every resident will receive at least one free cloth mask and two filters. Federal, regional and municipal bodies will combine their efforts. Surgical masks must only be used by people in frontline jobs. Video tutorials will explain how to safely wear a mask.

Other adaptations to the current measures are an increase in non-essential procedures that can be carried out in hospitals. Anyone waiting on a procedure should contact their hospital.

The security council said that it would make further announcements regarding professional sport matches and competitions, youth summer camps, the opening of tourist attractions and smaller outdoor events

The security council said that it would constantly monitor the public health situation and adapt the measures as the weeks progress. “We have always known that the exit strategy would be a long-term process,” said prime minister Sophie Wilmès at the press conference yesterday evening. “We are looking at a long period of transition, which will eventually get us back to a place where we can live our normal lives.”

Wilmès emphasised that the efforts that we have already made have had a huge impact on medical personnel and the number of deaths. Quarantine measures have kept Belgium far below the maximum capacity in intensive care space.

“To make this work, we depend on all of you,” she continued. “We are counting on your desire to act responsibly, your civic engagement and your common sense. Respecting these measures will get us back – back to the things we love, and to the people we love.”

Photo: Benoit Doppagne/Belga

Written by The Bulletin

Comments

SF1988

Thanks for this write up! However the sentence "Private gatherings with friends and family, at home, would be allowed - and the rules on weddings and funerals would be relaxed." , unfortunately seems misleading. What I gathered from the press conference and from other media, is that the national security council "may study the possibility of private gatherings with friends and family, at home" after May 18.

Apr 25, 2020 09:08
Frank Lee

The streets of Brussels today were packed. People waited for news of a reopening, and we got news of more confinement instead. Clearly, we are fed up of being told to stay home to prevent death from a natural cause. We know that waiting until there is a cure or a vaccine is impossible, so we'll have to be prudent, careful, wash hands, keep distances, but we need to accept some risks, the same way we accept many others when we drive around, eat unhealthy foods, drink, smoke, and engage in a little hanky-panky.

Apr 25, 2020 19:51
saffainbelgium

FRANK LEE, that’s rather shortsighted and selfish of you... the difference is your hanky-panky, drinking, smoking and eating unhealthy affects YOU and the risks you take are for YOU and at YOUR cost. Unfortunately it doesn’t work the same with covid-19. The risks YOU take affect not only you, but also those around you. When you don’t respect the confinement restrictions you assume responsibility also for those around you. Don’t be so presumptuous! If you want to drink yourself into a coma, by all means go ahead and do so. But don’t assume others won’t mind taking the risk getting infected by people like you and potentially die because you are tired of sitting at home.

Apr 27, 2020 08:21
Frank Lee

Saffa,
You misunderstood my post, probably because I wasn't clear enough.
I am very aware that we need to continue being careful and that we do this not just for ourselves but for others. My mistake was to point out only the risks we are ready to take as individuals.
As a society, we engage in risky behavior as well. The government allows some level of pollution into the air, decides which portion of our electricity needs to come from nuclear plants, which part of the budget goes to health care, when to release criminals from prison, etc. These are measured risks, and with this pandemic, it's exactly the same. The risk can't be zero, at least not for a few months at best. We can try to reduce the risk, but we need to accept some level of it, particularly considering all the other aspects of living in a society that are suffering from us staying at home and producing nothing. Our mental health is at stake. The debt we are going to transmit to the next generation is increasing. Thousands of people are losing their jobs. And probably the most important: have you seen people's haircuts?

Apr 27, 2020 11:06