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Coronavirus in Belgium: The latest developments
What's the latest?
Greece appears to be off the list of possible holiday destinations for Belgians this summer. The country has published a list of 29 countries from which travellers will be allowed to land in Greece without a mandatory quarantine. Belgium, France, Spain and the UK are not featured. Croatia has opened its border to nationals from 10 EU countries, including Germany, but not Belgium. Cyprus has named 19 countries from which quarantine is not necessary, and again Belgium does not feature. Austria and Denmark each plan to reopen their border with Germany on 15 June, but a decision on travel from other countries could come later.
Several Belgians took advantage of the reopening of cafes in the Netherlands to pop across the border for a drink, which is against the rules but difficult to enforce.
1 June brings a number of small changes in Belgium. Wallonia's compensation scheme for freelancers and businesses whose economic activity was significantly impacted by the coronavirus shutdown can file their request for a €2,500 grant from today. The business must have its official address in Wallonia and have put the majority of its staff on temporary unemployment due to force majeure. Meanwhile, public inquiries into planning permission requests can resume in the Brussels region. Anyone can book an appointment to see the details of a dossier in their town hall, with the compulsory wearing of a mask. Public inquiries that were put on hold on 16 March can resume, for however many days were left.
The Walloon government has released a €6.5 million budget to allow tourist attractions and accommodation providers to make the necessary adaptations to allow for social distancing among visitors. The size of each payout will depend on the average number of visitors pre-shutdown, or the number of rooms in each hotel.
The reopening of cafes and restaurants in Belgium, pencilled in for 8 June, will be decided by Belgium's national security council this Wednesday. Some details of the possible new rules have made their way into the papers over the weekend. Tables will be spaced 1.5 metres apart, no one can congregate at the bar, handheld menus must be replaced by signs, and restaurants would be by reservation only. The contact details of the person making the booking would be stored, to facilitate any future contact-tracing efforts. Likewise, in cafes, at least one person at each table will be required to leave their contact details.
What are the trends?
Over the past 24 hours
- Newly confirmed cases: 136
- Hospitalised: 25
- Left hospital: 32
- Deaths: 19 (14 in hospitals, 5 in care homes)
Totals since outbreak began
- Known cases: 58,517
- In hospital: 807 (-14)
- In intensive care: 163 (-5)
- Deaths: 9,486 (+19)
Other developments in the past week
Belgium has relaxed the restrictions on cross-border travel. It's now possible to head to the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg to visit your family or go shopping. However, France is reportedly still turning people away and will continue to do so until 15 June. The decision to allow some cross-border travel has taken the Netherlands by surprise, with many Belgian drivers heading over the border to do shopping this weekend. Marga Vermue, mayor of Sluis, said: "There was no consultation on this subject. Of course we would have preferred to have known about this in advance." The mayor of Hulst, Jan-Frans Mulder, said: "We were ready for 8 June, a long-established date for the reopening of the border. We will be closely monitoring how many Belgian cars come here. If we find that there are too many, we will turn people away."
Prince Joachim of Belgium has tested positive for coronavirus in Spain, with mild symptoms, days after attending a party with 27 people at a villa. Joachim is King Philippe's nephew, the son of Princess Astrid and Prince Lorenz. The 28-year-old had flown to Spain on a business trip as part of an internship he is currently doing, the royal palace confirmed. Spanish police have launched an investigation into the party. Those found to have breached the lockdown rules could be fined up to €10,000.
It has been a relatively calm long weekend on the Belgian coast, according to a straw poll of local mayors by RTL. Authorities in Blankenberge said: "There are certainly more people than in previous weeks, but it's certainly not gone crazy. People are respecting the rules and we have never had to close the city centre." De Panne saw the return of some French visitors. The mayor of Bredene said: "This is good preparation for the summer. We will make a full assessment after the weekend and make a few necessary adjustments."
Epidemiologist Marius Gilbert, one of the 10 experts sitting on Belgium's "exit strategy" committee said on Sunday: "We will have to remain vigilant for a long time - several months, certainly until the autumn. There will be a risky phase in the autumn, with the return of the cold weather, with more people indoors, with a return to school. This will be the period when all of our preventative measures, including contact tracing, must be totally operational."
Nursing homes in Flanders will again be able to welcome new residents from 8 June. New admissions had been banned since 12 March.
UZ Brussel university hospital has moved its coronavirus testing facility to its car park. The drive-in service aims to save time and make the hospital safer for everyone. Adults with a scheduled appointment at the hospital should turn up at the drive-in two days earlier, at an agreed time. Drivers can stay in their car. Anyone coming by public transport can walk through the testing facility. The results are known the next day.
Belgium's taxi sector is still struggling, with passenger numbers down by about 80%. Taxis Verts says it has between 1,200 and 1,400 bookings per day, down from 6,000 to 7,000 in pre-corona times. "We are really feeling the closure of bars and restaurants," its managing director said. "We hardly work any more at night. Added to this is the absence of tourists. There is a general feeling of insecurity that we must try to resolve." Plexiglass screens have been fitted in many taxis, to separate the driver from the passenger. Sam Bouchal, from the Brussels Taxi Federation, said: "We can already forget about the year 2020. It will not get any better before the end of the year."
A 106-year-old woman in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert has become Belgium's oldest resident to make a full recovery from coronavirus. Marie-Henriette Dejonghe tested positive a month ago and has been self-isolating in her room at Les Azalées retirement home. Her symptoms were relatively mild and she did not require hospitalisation. The head nurse at her retirement home told RTBF: "This is a wonderful message of hope. This is proof that you can be affected by the covid and recover from it. Other residents were not so lucky."
Belgium's national security council will meet again on 3 June. On the agenda will be the reopening of cafes and restaurants, and relaxing the rules on sports and cultural activities.
The SNCB has offered a range of measures to support businesses trading in Belgian rail stations. Shops in stations are expected to fully reopen in June. The SNCB is offering rent discounts, longer deadlines and interest-free payment plans to tenants.
Trade unions and business federations are in favour of extending temporary unemployment until the end of August for workers whose jobs have been impacted by the coronavirus shutdown. They will meet again on 15 June to discuss a possible further extension to the end of the year. The final decision rests with the federal government.
Interfederal spokesman Yves Van Laethem said on Friday: "We've had 17 days of data since the start of "phase 1B" in the exit strategy, and 10 days of stats since the start of "phase 2". The downward trend remains unchanged, so we have no reason to believe that we are easing the measures too quickly. We do not have the impression that people are taking risks - they are remaining relatively cautious."
The Council of State has confirmed that luncheon vouchers, eco-cheques and gift vouchers expiring between 1 March and 30 June will have their validity date automatically extended by six months. "This decision is good news for the revival of our local businesses, since these checks can only be used in Belgium," a the president of the Voucher Issuers Association (VIA) said.
A committee meeting on Thursday evening to discuss steps for reopening cafes and restaurants ended without any decisions being made, RTL reports. Representatives from the federal and regional governments met to examine the next phase in the easing of Belgium's coronavirus restrictions, including a possible broadening of social contact rules. We are unlikely to get news about cafes and restaurants until next Wednesday, when the national security council is due to meet again. The provisional date for reopening is 8 June, subject to the council's approval.
Primary and nursery pupils can return to school in June, it was announced on Wednesday night. For secondary school pupils, the decision will be made by each of Belgium's three language communities. Representatives from the federal and regional governments met on Wednesday to discuss the reopening of school with scientific experts. Wallonia-Brussels minister-president Pierre-Yves Jeholet said: "For children, the health risk of going to school is much lower than the psychological, social, human and emotional risk of not going back."
Nursery schools in the City of Brussels will reopen on 8 June, alderwoman Faouzia Hariche announced. "For Tuesday it was impossible to organise, so we decided to give ourselves more time. It is essential to know how many children will come and we must give the teams time to prepare."
Spring 2020, which we spent indoors, is set to be the sunniest spring on record. The Royal Meteorological Institute recorded 707 hours of sunshine, against an average of 464.
Three police officers guarding the Belgium-Netherlands border in Wuustwezel, Antwerp province, were reportedly caught drinking wine and enjoying a barbecue on Sunday. According to Het Nieuwsblad, a driver crossing the border saw the barbecue and wine bottles and called police, who came to the scene and took breathalyser tests from each of the officers, which all came back positive. They were senior officers, with more than 20 years' experience, who had been seconded from the aviation police. One of the officers reportedly acted aggressively towards the police who attended the scene. An internal disciplinary investigation has been launched.
A group of about 30 people are attempting to sue the Belgian state and interior minister Pieter De Crem, claiming the coronavirus stay-at-home restrictions are contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. They demand that the measures be immediately lifted, Het Nieuwsblad reports, and are demanding a symbolic €1 in damages. Their lawyer, Michael Verstraeten, said Belgium's measures to limit the spread of the virus had been copied from those in China and were an attack on "people's rights and freedoms". The interior ministry said it was not yet aware of the lawsuit and would be happy to defend its actions.