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Fully updated: Our practical guide to how Belgium's coronavirus measures affect you
Belgium has tightened its coronavirus measures for at least the next four weeks, with new limits on social contacts and events, after a 71% surge in new infections in the past week. From 29 July, for four weeks minimum, social contacts must be limited to five people. This limit is per-household and no longer per-person - and the five people must remain the same for the whole four weeks. Children under 12 do not count towards the five-person limit. "These are personal contacts with whom safety distances might not always be guaranteed," prime minister Sophie Wilmès said. "If you come into contact with people who are not part of this new social bubble, you must always respect the safety distances and it is recommended that you wear a mask."
The 10-person limit on private events applies to "a bike ride or a walk in the park", not a house party or meal in a restaurant, crisis centre spokesman Antoine Iseux explained on Wednesday. "We must limit our close contacts," he said, urging people not to be "creative" in trying to bend the rules. "You can meet your social bubble [five other people] at home or in places accessible to the public. Respect for social distance and other measures is not compulsory, but it is strongly recommended when possible." Seeing others outside your five-person bubble is possible, "strictly if one respects physical distancing. You can see people (10 maximum) for a walk in a park. On the other hand, a barbecue at home, an improvised football match in a park, getting together in a cafe - these are only possible with the bubble of five, because it is not possible to constantly observe a distance of 1.5 metres."
Work lunches are therefore off the agenda. "Going to a restaurant is considered close contact," said crisis centre spokesman Benoît Ramacker. "You can not respect the distance of 1.5 meters. So unless your colleagues are in your five-person social bubble, you cannot go to a restaurant with them." Restaurants can still have tables with 10 people, though, because children are not included in the bubble limit.
According to research by UAntwerp, almost half of us already had a social bubble of five people or less, even before the tougher restrictions were announced. The poll of 35,000 people found half of respondents have had to adapt their plans because of the new measures, for example cancelling a family celebration.
Antwerp province has imposed a late-night curfew, from 23.30 to 6.00, in a bid to limit the spread of coronavirus. Non-essential outings are banned during these hours. Cafes and restaurants must close by 23.00. Remote working is required except when it is impossible to do so. Masks must be worn in public at all times, except when eating or drinking. Team sports are banned, except for under-18s. Extra measures apply to the worst-affected parts of Antwerp province, including Antwerp city centre, where all events and festivals are cancelled until further notice, and where party venues and gyms must close. These measures will be in force for at least four weeks. The governor of Antwerp province, Cathy Berx, said "Please do not come to Antwerp, for the sake of your own health and that of all those dear to you." She also urged Antwerp residents not to travel elsewhere in Belgium or abroad.
Local police around Belgium have started strictly applying the latest coronavirus restrictions, announced on Monday by the national security council. "The awareness-raising period is over," said Nicholas Paelinck, chairman of the local police standing commission.
Belgium's Human Rights League gathered 75 claims of alleged police abuse of power during the stay-at-home period. The organisation began an investigation at the beginning of April after being alerted to several reports on social media of excessive use of force by officers enforcing the coronavirus restrictions. The researchers said: "Youngsters, some racial groups and people living in precarious conditions were more at risk of encountering serious problems with the police, such as arrests with the use of force. While a white or older person would be penalised with a fine for non-compliance, the same behaviour committed by a young person from a disadvantaged background would more likely be accompanied by violence."
A Brussels court has thrown out a legal action brought by 196 members of the public, who had complained that the coronavirus restrictions violated their fundamental rights and freedoms. The Court of First Instance said the claimants had gone to the wrong court - they should have taken their case straight to the Council of State. "No one has the subjective right not to have to comply with the law," the court said.
Cafes, bars and restaurants reopened on 8 June, with a 1.5 metre distance between tables. Customers should be served at their table, and staff must wear a mask. Disinfectant hand gel must be available at the entrance, and chairs and tables should be disinfected after each meal. Condiments can only be served in individual sachets and there should be no printed menus or decorations on the table. Buffets are banned.
All restaurants must close by 1.00 in the morning (23.00 in Antwerp province). The late closing time was agreed to make it easier for restaurants to organise two sittings for the evening meal.
Customers in restaurants and cafes are required to wear a mask when not sitting down, and to leave their contact details - a phone number or email address - which should be kept for 14 days, to facilitate the contact-tracing efforts if a customer or staff member tests positive for coronavirus. The contact-tracing form that cafe and restaurant customers have to fill in has been made available on the federal economy ministry website, along with posters and other helpful information for cafe owners.
A decree published in the Belgian Official Gazette sets out a slightly revised set of rules for cafes and restaurants. Tables do not need to be 1.5 metres apart if they are separated by a plexiglass panel at least 1.8 metres high. The maximum number of people per table is 10. The requirement to wear a mask includes kitchen and bar staff, not just waiters. Face visors can only be used if wearing a mask is "impossible for medical reasons". Once they close, at no later than 1.00 in the morning, bars must remain shut for at least five hours before reopening.
The Horeca Comeback scheme, which allows customers to pre-pay for a meal or drink now and redeem it later, has generated half a million euros for the 5,600 bars and restaurants taking part. If a business goes bust before you can claim your food/drink, the vouchers will be valid at another participating establishment of your choice.
Court proceedings have begun in a case brought by the Federation of Belgian Cafes, FedCaf, and 11 Brussels bar owners, against the Brussels region. The claimants argue that it is unfair that cafes in Brussels received a lump-sum €4,000 compensation for lost trade during the shutdown, while bars in Flanders received €4,000 up front plus €160 per day. "Cafes and restaurants were the first to be closed and the last to reopen, with more stringent measures than other businesses," the federation's lawyer told the court. "Many cafes are now running at a loss." A judgment is expected shortly.
Restaurants, cafes and bars will have to pay just 6% VAT on most of their sales, except alcoholic drinks, until the end of December. This represents extra revenue for the sector, as cafes can keep their prices the same and only give 6% to the taxman instead of 21%.
A Brussels restaurant has been adding a €5-per-person surcharge to bills to cover "Anti-Covid-19 measures". Viva M'Boma, on Rue de Flandre, said the measure applied for the first 10 days of the restaurant's reopening. Diners were informed in advance and "understood our position," management said. The restaurant is operated at 50% of its normal capacity to ensure the rules can be followed - and no staff have been laid off. "We did not know how much in additional costs we would face," management added. "We followed the measures to the letter so that our customers feel safe. We didn't want to shock, but just pass on costs that were not foreseen in our margins."
Belgium's minister for the self-employed, Denis Ducarme, has ordered an investigation into the business practices of meal delivery firms Deliveroo and Uber Eats during the coronavirus shutdown. Ducarme said he had received complaints from a number of restaurateurs about excessively high commissions and profit margins charged by the platforms, reportedly as high as 30-35% of the total meal price. He said the aim was to "make more fair the commercial relations between a small independent business and a platform as big as Deliveroo".
Education ministers from Belgium's three language communities have set out their plans for how children will return to school in September. The plan is based on four colour-coded levels, based on the evolution of the virus over time. In a "green" scenario, where a vaccine is available and/or widespread immunity has been acquired, schools will operate as they did before the outbreak. "Yellow" - a low risk - would mean the virus is still present, but with a relatively low number of new infections. The assumption is that the return to school in September will be in a "yellow" period. "Orange" means a systematic spreading of the virus and "red" a major, widespread outbreak.
Primary and secondary schools would be treated differently, as experts widely agreed that 0-12 year olds were less affected by the virus and less contagious. In all four of the colour-coded scenarios - from green to red - primary and nursery school pupils would be expected to attend school five days a week. In secondary schools, pupils would attend four days a week, with distance learning on Wednesday, assuming the situation remains yellow. A return to five days a week is envisaged once a vaccine is available. If the situation worsens to orange or red, secondary school classes would be halved in size, with pupils attending two days a week (Monday-Tuesday or Thursday-Friday) and expected to follow remote teaching methods for the rest of the week.
Activities outside school would be allowed in the "yellow" scenario, but would be banned if the situation becomes orange or red. The concept of "bubbles" - isolated individual classes - remains in place. If a pupil or member of staff tests positive, the bubble would stay home.
Schools partially reopened on 18 May, but only for pupils in the final years of primary and secondary. This was extended on 25 May to the first and second year of primary, and the first two years of secondary school. Primary and nursery pupils in other year groups returned to school on 2 and 8 June respectively. 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."
In May, a group of 269 pediatricians had penned a joint letter arguing that all children should be allowed back to school. They write: "There is no valid medical reason for us to exclude children from the community any longer. A child must be able to evolve, interact and play normally."
Sanctions for parents who do not bring their children to school will resume in September, Wallonia-Brussels education minister Caroline Désir has confirmed. From the new academic year, the compulsory school age is dropped from six to five, to include the last year of nursery school. Désir said: "Compulsory education will be fully enforced from September, whatever the circumstances." However she added: "Society is deeply divided over the resumption of school. Many parents are still afraid for the health of their child. Time is our best ally to resolve this confidence problem."
Wallonia's General Secretariat for Catholic Education estimates that French-speaking schools in Belgium have had to spend almost €40 million making adjustments because of the coronavirus crisis. The Catholic school network, which is made up of about 1,000 schools, carried out a survey to find out the costs of installing plexiglas, buying disinfectant gels and soap, painting markings on the ground and additional cleaning. The average cost was €10,972 for a primary school and €15,977 for secondary schools. By extrapolating to include all schools in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, the estimated cost comes to €39 million.
Children's playgrounds around Belgium reopened on 27 May. Playgrounds can be used by children aged 12 and under, with a maximum number of 20 people at any given time. Accompanying adults must maintain a minimum 1.5-metre distance. Indoor playgrounds and amusement parks were allowed to reopen on 1 July.
Children's summer camps - including sports camps - can go ahead, with a maximum of 50 participants and no mixing up of groups. Youth clubs will also be allowed to reopen from this date. The news offers stay-at-home families a breather over the summer holidays, as they can enrol their children for outdoor activities.
Walibi amusement park has reopened, allowing a maximum of 3,000 visitors per day instead of the usual 12,000. Advance reservation online is required and over-12s must wear a mask. Visitors will follow a set route around the park. Aqualibi has also opened to bathers, who can choose one of three slots during the day. Numbers are limited to 400. The Midi Fair, planned for 1-30 August, has been cancelled.
Pairi Daiza has chosen to cut the maximum number of people allowed in the animal park at one time, after several people posted photos on social media of crowds at the weekend. "We were operating at just 30% of our normal capacity," a spokeswoman said. "But despite having 85 hectares of space, there are still places where visitors gather in large numbers, especially in front of the panda enclosure." Security guards monitor CCTV at all times and tannoy messages are regularly broadcast to remind visitors of the rules. The park also has 30 "corona stewards" walking around, who can intervene when necessary.
The Foire du Midi has been cancelled by the City of Brussels. Mayor Philippe Close said: "We have a meeting with fairground representatives tomorrow (Tuesday) to explain our decision." Work was already under way to set up this year's funfair, which was due to open this coming Saturday. Organiser Patrick De Corte is not impressed: "We had put in place very strict measures to ensure that everything works well, with respect for the rules of distancing, wearing a mask, counting people. We will take our trucks and demonstrate throughout Brussels. We have nothing more to lose."
Shops throughout Belgium reopened on 11 May. Access to shops is limited to a maximum of one customer per 10m² of retail space. From 29 July, the requirement to shop alone has been reintroduced, and you must not spend more than 30 minutes in any one store.
Businesses that involve close physical contact with each customer - for example beauty salons, hairdressers and tattoo parlours - were allowed to reopen on 18 May, by appointment only and with the wearing of masks compulsory. Hairdressers have seen their revenue return to more than 75% of pre-coronavirus levels, according to turnover data collected by payroll provider SD Worx. Takings were about 60% of the norm in the first week of reopening, from 18 May, rising to 74% in the following week. From 29 July, hairdressers and beauty salons will be required to keep a record of customers' contact details for 14 days, to facilitate the coronavirus contact tracing efforts.
Rue Neuve has been split down the middle with barriers. At the end of each block, mini-roundabouts allow pedestrians to switch to the other side of the street. Signs at each end of Brussels' busiest shopping street explain the rules: walk on the right-hand side, follow staff instructions, stay away from other shoppers, avoid touching products that you do not plan to buy, use the disinfectant dispensers at the entrance to each shop and pay by card.
Maasmechelen Village shopping outlet will take customers' temperatures when they arrive. Anyone registering 38°C or higher on the thermal cameras will be invited to a separate room for a second check with a handheld thermometer. If the second reading remains above 38°C, they will be turned away.
Supermarkets can freely organise new promotions and bulk-buy discounts. Until recently, these had been limited to promotional activities that had already been decided or were already running before 18 March. Supermarkets have also been authorised to sell masks to the general public. Most supermarkets are imposing a limit of one box per customer (50 masks in total). Prices are in the region of €30.
You should pay by card where possible. The limit for paying with a contactless bank card has been doubled from €25 to €50. If your shopping costs less than €50, you should not need to enter your PIN on the keypad. Shops cannot refuse cash, but some supermarkets are limiting cash transactions to a single till, with all others card-only. A new app lets you check how busy a supermarket is before heading out. Search for ShopSafe in your app store. The app functions in a similar way to traffic planning service Waze. Stores are listed as "quiet", "normal", "busy" or "very busy" based on anonymous location data from mobile phone operators.
There has been a boom in online shopping - everything from thermometers to trampolines and popcorn makers. Summer sales in Belgium have been postponed until 1 August.
Belgian supermarkets have recorded an additional half a billion euros in sales since the coronavirus crisis began in mid-March, according to new figures from Nielsen. Overall revenue is up 10%, with a 13% rise in alcohol sales, partly because the closing of borders has put a stop to cross-border shopping. Sales of beauty products were down by 90%.
Since non-essential shops were allowed to reopen, turnover has been about a third lower than normal, according to the latest research by the self-employed union SNI, which warns that one in five small traders risk going bust by the year-end. Almost two thirds of respondents said they no longer had the cash reserves to cover their fixed costs for two months. Some 95% said they were sitting on large amounts of stock, especially in the clothing and footwear sector.
Markets were allowed to reopen on Monday 18 May, with a one-way circuit to ensure social distancing; An initial limit of 50 stalls per market was lifted on 1 July. Wearing a mask is compulsory from 25 July.
Night shops are now required to close at 22.00 - instead of 1.00 - to discourage late-night get-togethers.
During the peak of the coronavirus shutdown, allowed outdoor exercise was limited to walking, cycling, jogging, skating and rollerblading. Since 8 June, any non-contact sporting activity - indoors or outdoors - has been allowed. Gyms reopened on 8 June, provided safety distances are maintained. In Antwerp province, team sports are banned, except for under-18s, and gyms remain closed.
Sitting on a bench and sunbathing has been allowed again, since 8 June, as has picnicking in small groups (no more than 15, at present). Spring 2020, which we spent indoors, was the sunniest spring on record. The Royal Meteorological Institute recorded 707 hours of sunshine, against an average of 464.
More than 200 ideas were submitted for the Staycation Bxl project, which will provide funding to a range of outdoor events around Brussels this summer. Some 46 projects were approved, for a total budget of €400,000. They include streets turned into outdoor playgrounds, sandpits on the inner ring road between Louise and Porte de Hal, a velodrome in Anderlecht and miniature parks replacing car parking spaces.
Swimming pools, spas and wellness centres were allowed to reopen on 1 July. Swimming in the sea is allowed again, only in areas where lifeguards are present.
Eight of Brussels' 15 municipal swimming pools are currently open. Calypso 2000 in Watermael-Boitsfort reopened on 13 July, with advance booking required. Sportcity in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre followed on 14 July, with prior booking for a maximum 50 swimmers, and no more than 45 minutes in the pool. The other pools that are open are: Laeken, Marolles, Etterbeek, Saint-Josse, Saint-Gilles and Ganshoren. By the end of July, Neder-Over-Heembeek should follow. In August, Molenbeek, Woluwe-Saint-Lambert and Anderlecht are expected to reopen. Uccle and Evere will not be much further behind. Ixelles and Schaerbeek remain closed for renovation work.
Remote working remains strongly recommended, even as the rest of Belgium's coronavirus measures are gradually phased out. About one in 10 workers in Belgium continue to do their jobs from home, according to human resources firm Attentia. "Remote work will remain on the agenda for some time in a good number of companies," the firm said. One in three workers in Belgium will continue to be do their jobs remotely, even after the coronavirus crisis has passed, according to a survey carried out by social security provider SD Worx. Some 92% of business leaders questioned said remote working was going as well as expected, if not better. A similar proportion said they would continue to offer it to their employees long-term, mostly like for one or two days per week.
According to ongoing research by the University of Antwerp, more than half of respondents who have contracted coronavirus believe they caught it at work. Remote working from home is still strongly recommended in all companies, whatever their size, for all staff members whose job allows. Businesses that have reopened must respect social distancing rules, notably a distance of at least 1.5 metres between each employee. A 50-page set of guidelines has been published, covering everything from canteens to toilets and lifts.
A special medical certificate is now available for anyone who is unable to work because they are self-isolating at home. The note can be sent remotely, without the need for a face-to-face doctor's consultation.
Temporary unemployment for staff, the "droit passerelle" payout for freelancers and special parental leave arrangements have been extended until 31 August. The droit passerelle amounts to €1,291.69 per month, or €1,614.10 for a parent with children. Last month, almost 350,000 freelancers benefited from the payout. Self-employed people who have had to cut back their work to look after a child under 12 can apply for paid parental leave - €532.34 per month or €875 for a single-parent family - but this cannot be combined with the "droit passerelle". Almost 37,000 workers took advantage of the new coronavirus parental leave allowance in May, according to national employment office Onem. The allowance is 25% more generous than ordinary parental leave - and time taken off is not counted towards a worker's existing parental leave allowance. Almost 10,000 parents used the scheme to go part-time in May, while another 27,000 took a day off per week.
The Flemish government has announced that workers placed on temporary unemployment will have their energy bills paid for them. In Wallonia, every firm that has shut down will receive a €5,000 payment. In Brussels, the payout is €4,000. Businesses in Brussels that have had to close because of the coronavirus restrictions can now apply for the one-off grant from this website. The website has a list of the sectors covered by the payout. They include catering, sport, leisure, travel agencies, cinemas and driving schools. Eligible firms must employ fewer than 50 staff and have their registered address in the Brussels region. The Brussels government has also approved a one-off €2,000 grant for businesses that did not close down entirely, but have seen a significant drop in turnover as a result of the coronavirus crisis, such as artisans and construction workers. Example details of the applicable sectors and criteria are being drawn up.
A phishing SMS is doing the rounds, claiming that the national security council has approved a grant for all Belgian residents to help them pay their bills due to the coronavirus crisis. It invites people to click on a link to a website, which is not official, and which asks for sensitive personal information.
Wallonia's compensation scheme has opened for freelancers and businesses whose economic activity was significantly impacted by the coronavirus shutdown can file their request for a €2,500 grant. The business must have its official address in Wallonia and have put the majority of its staff on temporary unemployment due to force majeure.
A new tax-free perk for employers and their staff is coming soon. The "consumer cheque" provides €300 of spending money for restaurants, cafes, culture, sport and leisure - among the sectors worst-hit by the coronavirus shutdown. Employers can decide whether to offer the perk to workers and the cost is tax-exempt. It cannot be used online, only in person, to pay for a meal or a cinema ticket, buy a book or go to an amusement park, for example.
The emergency measures put in place to support Belgian companies and households has cost €14.4 billion so far, according to figures from the Belgian national bank. The measures, including grants for shut-down businesses and temporary unemployment, will have a €10.2 billion impact on the federal budget and €4.2 billion for the regions.
The City of Brussels has presented its €14 million economy recovery plan for the rest of the year, with the goal of bringing consumers and tourists back. The city will spend €2 million on advertising and will waive the rents for traders occupying city-owned buildings, at a cost of €2.5 million. More unusual ideas include scented shopping streets, unusual walks and "urban escape games".
Belgium's gross domestic product fell a further 12.2% in the second quarter of this year. On a year-on-year basis, the decline is 14.5%, according to the National Bank. Industry, construction and services are the sectors to have suffered the biggest falls.
Creches and childcare
Belgium's French-speaking creches, accredited by the childcare body ONE, reopened to all from 4 May. It is recommended that children should be split into groups of no more than 10. Drop-off and pick-up times should be staggered, and only one parent should enter the building (the same parent each day, where possible). Facilities should be disinfected at the end of each day. Staff will be provided with cloth masks and disinfectant gel.
Children's care organisation ONE is continuing its regular schedule of vaccinations against other illnesses, but toys have been removed from the waiting rooms and consultation times have been spread out to ensure no two families are waiting at the same time. Children can only be accompanied by one parent.
The stay-at-home restrictions, which were in place for two and a half months, reinforced inequalities between men and women, according to research by VUB. The Brussels university carried out a major survey of how people's daily lives have been affected by the coronavirus shutdown. Its first results suggest stay-at-home has been more stressful for women than men. "It seems that it is mainly women who try to juggle their private and professional spheres at home," said researcher Theun Pieter van Tienoven.
Daytrips and sightseeing
Non-essential travel within Belgium is now allowed again, so you'll be able to enjoy a daytrip or a longer staycation. On 20 May, Belgium lifted its ban on visits to a second home, just in time for the long Ascension holiday weekend. Belgian prime minister Sophie Wilmès told parliament earlier that there was "no longer any reason to maintain this ban".
But don't visit Antwerp. That's the advice from virologist Marc Van Ranst. "It is a fantastic city, well worth a visit, but not now," he tweeted this weekend. "As soon as the epidemic is under control, we can go to Antwerp again." The coronavirus infection rate in the city is close to 2.
Visit.brussels has launched the Brussels Health Safety Label, a standard awarded to tourism businesses in the region that fully comply with all the necessary coronavirus prevention measures, including attractions and museums, tourist accommodation, guided tour operators, catering and events. Applicants will have their venues checked against the latest national security council directives and can display the label in their window and online to help attract visitors.
Ostend has introduced a booking system for its most popular beaches, but only on the busiest days of the year. Reservation will be on a per-day basis and will be free. Quieter beaches such as Mariakerke will remain open without a reservation - but beachgoers will be asked to bring their own windbreak to delimit their personal space. In total, a maximum of 30,000 people will be allowed along all of Ostend's beachers, which is about 60% of the normal occupancy on a busy day.
You will not have to book a spot on Blankenberge beach this summer, the resort's mayor Daphne Dumery said on Monday. The beach will be divided into five zones, with 6m² of space per person. When the first zone is full, the entrances will be closed and beachgoers will be sent to the second zone, and so on. A maximum 10,000 people can be accommodated on the beach - about a third of the usual peak on a hot summer's day. "There were only five of those last year," the mayor added.
Belgium's seaside resorts will invest in a network of 250 "smart cameras" to keep track of how many people are visiting the beach this summer. The cameras, supplied by Bruges firm Citymesh, can count the number of people in the video footage - data which is then fed into a real-time map. The municipalities will be able to better anticipate potential overcrowding problems and manage the flow of people, sending them to quieter parts of the beach.
The mayor of Knokke-Heist has complained about an "uncontrolled influx of visitors from Belgium's big cities" and has accused the SNCB of "deliberately organising the export of coronavirus from Brussels to the coast". Leopold Lippens said the seaside resort was considering turning daytrippers away on the hottest days of the summer, pointing to "disrespectful visitors and enormous inconveniences". He accused the SNCB of not doing enough to enforce safety measures.
The Belgian coast recorded 446,000 daytrippers during the long national holiday weekend and 1.1 million overnight stays in hotels and other accommodation, according to provincial tourism office Westtoer. Sunday was the busiest day, with 133,000 daytrippers. "Holidaymakers followed the coronavirus measures well," the organisation said. A real-time map, showing how busy the beaches are, has been viewed 865,000 times.
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 Brussels region will provide grants totalling €2 million to help boost business tourism. The grants of up to €50,000 are available to organisers of B2B events, such as international trade conferences, fairs and exhibitions where an overnight stay in Brussels is required. Business travel, pre-coronavirus, accounted for 52% of hotel stays in the city.
All of Belgium's public transport operators are back running a near-normal level of service. Wearing a mask is compulsory on all Belgian public transport, for all passengers aged 12 and over, not just on-board, but also at stops and stations. The mask should cover your nose and mouth. A scarf can be used instead. Between 4 and 13 May, only 25 fines were handed out to public transport users caught not wearing a mask, it has been revealed.
The SNCB will launch an app in September allowing passengers to find out how busy a train is before boarding. The rail operator hopes the app will reassure people who have been avoiding taking public transport since the coronavirus outbreak, and plan their travel accordingly to avoid the busiest periods.
The SNCB is selling masks and disinfectant in 80 mainline rail stations. Because of the requirement to wear a facemask at all times, the SNCB has told passengers that eating and drinking is banned on trains and at stations until further notice. 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.
Train conductors will not handle tickets to check them - instead they will be looked at from a distance. Ticket offices will only accept card payments. Coins can still be used in the machines. The SNCB has allowed shops inside 80 mainline stations to sell cloth masks and disinfectant gel to passengers. Some food and drink vending machines will be emptied and filled up with masks and gel instead.
Police have warned that anyone caught not wearing a mask on SNCB trains and in stations will be fined €250. Until now, passengers have usually got away with a verbal caution. Federal police say spot checks will be reinforced between now and at least September, on platforms and on trains. "There are still unfortunately some people who do not get it," a spokesman said. Since 4 May, when the requirement to wear a mask came into force, police have issued 1,000 reports for non-compliance.
Every resident in Belgium will be eligible for a free 12-journey SNCB rail pass to encourage them to make journeys within the country before the end of 2020. Details of how to order your pass should be available soon. The surcharge for taking bikes on trains will also be lifted until the end of the year.
The SNCB's free 12-journey rail pass, promised by the federal government in June, will not be valid to use until September because of the current rise in coronavirus cases around the country. The online form to request the ticket should still be ready in early August. Initially it was due to be valid from 17 August. The free trips can be taken over a period of six months, at a rate of two journeys per month.
De Lijn and Stib have both banned cash payments onboard their trams and buses. Both operators say passengers should board buses by the middle and rear doors, not the front. De Lijn has cancelled its dial-a-ride service, Belbus, primarily used by the elderly and people with mobility problems. Walloon public transport operator TEC has lifted the maximum passenger limit on its buses. Since 1 July, all seats can be occupied and standing passengers are allowed again. The sale of tickets on-board is still suspended.
Consumer watchdog Test-Achats and two associations representing commuters are campaigning for the SNCB to partially refund or extend passengers' season tickets. They also want the expiry date on bulk-buy tickets - such as 10-journey pass - to be extended. Many travellers have not needed to travel since March. "We are aware of the financial impact for the SNCB but we believe that it is not up to passengers to bear the costs," the associations said. "The loss of income must be compensated for by the federal government."
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."
Car use in Brussels has never been higher, as more people are staying away from public transport, according to the latest research from Belgian road safety institute Vias. The study found 57% of respondents were unwilling to take public transport since the coronavirus outbreak. Cars accounted for 58% of all the kilometres travelled in Brussels after the stay-at-home period, compared with 36% beforehand. Walking accounted for 18% of journeys, up from 10% before the crisis. Metro and tram use fell from 9.5% to 2.7% of journeys. Bus use fell from 4.2% to 3%.
Brussels mobility minister Elke Van den Brandt said the figures were to be taken with a pinch of salt: "The study was carried out on the basis of figures going back to 11 May, at least six weeks ago, at a time when remote working was higher than today. The current situation is totally different." A Stib spokeswoman added: "Since the first phase of the easing of the coronavirus measures, we have seen the number of visitors begin to rise again. Each week it is up 5% on the previous week."
Public transport use in Belgium is back up to 50% of normal capacity, according to the Stib and SNCB. Walloon public transport operator TEC reported a lower occupancy rate, around 30%.
More than three quarters of Brussels residents noticed an improvement in air quality during the stay-at-home period and do not want to see a return to the previous levels, according to a YouGov poll commissioned by the citizens' collective Les Chercheurs d'Air. Two thirds were in favour of redistributing public space more in favour of pedestrians, cyclists and public transport. The research was based on telephone interviews with 7,500 adults in mid-May.
Throughout the Brussels region, street parking rules have started being enforced again since 18 May. The City of Brussels plans to introduce pay-monthly parking permits for workers in several key sectors, to help them better manage their budget. The price of a professional parking ticket remains unchanged and works out at €17 per month. The monthly option is available for workers in hospitals, creches, schools and places of worship, as well as police officers.
The Rue de la Loi has shrunk from four to three lanes of traffic, with the creation of a new bike lane. Until now, cyclists and pedestrians have had difficulty sharing the narrow pavements. "About 3,000 people drive up Rue de la Loi in rush hour," said a spokesperson for Brussels mobility minister Elke Van den Brandt. "At the same time, more than 2,000 pedestrians and cyclists use it. Motorists had a 12-metre-wide space, while pedestrians and cyclists had just 5.5 metres."
Motorists' association Touring is worried that changes are being made to road layouts without consultation. The organisation says that while making temporary adaptations - such as more space for cyclists - is justified, it is concerned that "some of these so-called temporary arrangements become permanent without an impact assessment on traffic". Touring believes the changes should be limited to shopping streets. For the motorists' association, cars are "the most appropriate means of transport for respecting social distancing".
The Bois de la Cambre has been partially reopened to traffic. The northern half of the wood will be accessible to motor vehicles again, while the southern half, around the lake, remains reserved for pedestrians and cyclists. The whole wood will be closed on Sundays. A long-term traffic plan is being discussed for September - with petitions and counter-petitions currently doing the rounds.
Cars have been banned from the Parc de la Woluwe, to give walkers and runners more space. Residents in Saint-Josse - Brussels' most densely populated municipality - had campaigned for some of the narrowest roads to be closed to traffic to make social distancing possible. Mayor Emir Kir says the idea is impractical and has encouraged residents to take a walk at nearby Botanique, Parc Josaphat or Cinquantenaire. Anderlecht has changed the traffic regulations on several streets around the Cureghem neighbourhood, giving pedestrians and cyclists priority over vehicles.
The 20kph zone in central Brussels came into force on Monday 11 May, for a three-month trial period. Pedestrians and cyclists have priority over motor vehicles. Brussels mobility minister Elke Van den Brandt has confirmed that emergency vehicles will not be fined for breaching the new 20kph speed limit in the city centre. Meanwhile, Uccle has also decided to drop the speed limit on 15 streets to 20kph. The measure is in place until the end of June. Molenbeek is also making most of its streets 20kph from 11 May.
Brussels' car inspection centres in Schaerbeek, Anderlecht, Haren and Forest have reopened by appointment only. Priority will given to vehicles that have failed a roadworthiness test and need a repeat test.
Consumer rights watchdog Test-Achats has called on insurers to reimburse part of this year's premium for car insurance holders, or apply a discount to next year's bill. The association says: "With more than 1.25 million Belgians out of work, consumers have been hit hard by the crisis. We are asking car insurers, who have had to face less risk, to pass this on to their customers."
Provisional driving licences will be extended to 30 September to give candidates enough time to take their test. Mechanics can still carry out urgent car repairs. Motorists due to take their cars for their annual roadworthiness test (contrôle technique/technische keuring) from 1 March, have been accorded a delay of six months. This extension will remain in place until the final day of the stay-at-home order.
The coronavirus crisis might not bring about a major change in the way we get around cities, according to an Ivox poll of 2,000 people in June commissioned by the federal mobility ministry. Nine out of 10 respondents said they did not want to change their main mode of transport for commuting.
Belgium is facing a bicycle shortage - and a spare parts shortage - as more of us take up cycling to get around post-shutdown. Bike shops have reported a surge in trade since they were allowed to reopen on 11 May. With factories shut down in March and April, not enough new bikes are coming off the production line. Second-hand women's bikes are also hard to come by. One Decathlon employee told RTBF: "We've run out city bikes, almost everything except bikes for small children. There are still some mountain bikes priced over €850." He said stocks should be replenished by early July.
About 7,000 people took up Villo's coronavirus offer of a free six-month electric bike subscription. The deal has now been closed to new sign-ups, although you can still apply for six free months of conventional (non-electric) Villo until the end of June.
A new "Park+Bike" service launched in Brussels on 18 May at several car parks on the city edge. Commuters can leave their car for free (or just €1 a day in some car parks) and use Villo, Billy Bike or Dott electric scooters to continue their journey into the centre. "To allow Stib to remain safe and efficient for those who really need it and to avoid completely clogging up Brussels, we encourage all citizens who can to walk and cycle," said the region's mobility minister Elke Van den Brandt. Villo is offering a free upgrade to its electric bike service for six months, while Dott offers two free unlocks per day with the promo code PARKANDRIDE.
Electric scooter provider Lime is returning its vehicles to the streets, after withdrawing them in mid-March when the coronavirus measures were introduced. 250 electric scooters are available across the capital. The fleet will be gradually increased according to demand. The vehicles are disinfected regularly. Meanwhile, rival Dott has gone back to its pre-pandemic level of service, offering 3,000 scooters across the city.
Cultural events with an audience resumed on 1 July, initially with a maximum of 200 participants indoors and 400 outdoors. However, from 29 July, the audience limit has been halved to 100 indoors and 200 outdoors, at least until the end of August. An online tool is available for events organisers, allowing them to check the rules that they must follow. Wearing a mask is compulsory. Local authorities have been urged to thoroughly check that events abide by the rules and, if in doubt, they should be cancelled.
Anderlecht football club will play its home matches without spectators when the season resumes in August. "We have made this difficult decision following recent developments in the pandemic," the club's chief executive Karel Van Eetvelt said. "In collaboration with the municipality of Anderlecht, we chose to take the fewest possible risks in terms of public health."
The 12th edition of the Millenium international documentary film festival, initially scheduled for 27 March to 4 April, will now take place from 16-25 October in seven locations around Brussels. The full programme will be unveiled in early September.
Jette's annual market, scheduled for 31 August, has been cancelled. The town had initially hoped to go ahead with a "light" version of the event, to avoid crowding. It normally attracts 100,000 visitors.
The City of Brussels has decided to go ahead with its planned "Hello Summer" open-air concert series, with the number of spectators limited to 200. The mini-music festival will continue in August on the esplanade next to the Congress column, with concerts twice-daily from Thursdays to Sundays.
There are no big music festivals this summer - but RTBF has come up with a plan to bring the festival atmosphere to your living room. The broadcaster has set up a stage on eight deserted festival sites, including Couleur Cafe, Dour and Les Ardentes, and invited two Belgian music acts to perform at each site without an audience. The performances were filmed and will be broadcast over the summer. The Destination Festivals initiative aims not just to support local artists, but everyone working in the events sector, who were hired to build the sets and set up the sound and lights.
With many big events cancelled, the City of Brussels is renting out unused tables and chairs to the city's restaurants and cafes. The initiative aims to help eateries wishing to expand their terrace, without having to make a big purchase. The surplus equipment will be available until the end of September, and cafes will only have to pay the bill at the end of the season, once they have handed it back. See www.rockthecity.be
The Ancienne Belgique has announced it plans to reopen in September, with a new focus on small-scale concerts mostly by Belgian artists. The main auditorium will be converted into a more intimiate venue. The programme will be announced later this summer. The AB also intends to make room for small Brussels cultural organisations, dance and theatre companies. When the venue fully reopens in September, the front row of every concert until the end of the year will be reserved for frontline care staff.
This year's Brussels Marathon, which normally takes place in early October, has been cancelled. "Half of the participants traditionally come from abroad," the organisers said. Instead, it will be possible to compete in the event virtually, using an app. Participants have the choice between three distances: 10km, 21km or a full marathon. The app will take you past popular landmarks around Brussels, with an audio commentary, and allow you to share your finish time on social media.
The 712th Meyboom celebration in Brussels will go ahead on 9 August, but without an audience. Instead it will be streamed live online. This year's tree, which must be planted before 17.00, will be lighter than in previous years so that it can be carried by a smaller team of people while respecting social distancing. Participants will wear masks and will not pass through the Grand-Place this year. "We see that many processions in Belgium have been cancelled, so we are happy to have been able to find a solution," said Brussels mayor Philippe Close.
The 2020 Belgian F1 grand prix at Spa-Francorchamps will go ahead on 30 August, without an audience in the grandstands. Walloon economy minister Willy Borsus said: "Organising it without an audience is obviously a disappointment for the spectators and a real shortfall for the region in terms of economic benefits. However, the terms we have negotiated allow the region to limit losses and ensure the Grand Prix will continue at Spa in 2021 and 2022." Ticket-holders can either apply for a refund or exchange their ticket for the 2021 race. Details will be published shortly at www.spagrandprix.com
Demonstrations are allowed to take place again, since 1 July, with the same maximum participant limit as outdoor cultural events: 200 people. Protests must remain in one place: no processions are allowed.
Consumer protection watchdog Test-Achats has begun an investigation into over-priced masks and disinfectant gels sold in pharmacies and online. The organisation has received more than 200 complaints from consumers so far. According to its preliminary research, disinfectant gels are being sold for up to 2.5 times their normal retail price in some pharmacies. One customer reported paying €19.45 for a 250ml bottle. Consumers have also reported prices of up to €15 for a surgical mask. Test-Achats has passed its concerns - and the names of the pharmacists involved - to the Belgian Order of Pharmacists.
Sales of pregnancy tests in Belgium have risen by as much as 25% during the stay-at-home period.
Banks and post offices
Customers should use online and mobile banking wherever possible. The average person in Belgium cut their monthly household spending by 30% during the stay-at-home period, according to new research by ING bank, based on anonymised analysis of 96 million electronic transactions. The biggest sector declines were in leisure travel (-69%), children's activities (-68%) and clothing and beauty (-61%). Spending on groceries was up 24%, with local grocery stores seeing a 14% increase in trade. The number of cash withdrawals at an ATM was down 65%.
Bpost is handling 400,000 parcels per day and there have been reports of longer-than-usual waits for mail to arrive. For signed-for items, the postman will sign, instead of the recipient. Bpost has recruited almost 1,000 extra postal workers since the coronavirus crisis began. Many of the new recruits come from the restaurant and hospitality sector. "There is a lot of interest," said a Bpost spokeswoman. "We receive an average of 200 requests per week." A CGSP union spokesman said: "There are still a lot of vacancies, for example because many postal workers are retiring, but the number of applications is very high. People are starting to realise that it is a good job with a decent salary."
Bpost has recruited almost 1,000 extra postal workers since the coronavirus crisis began. Many of the new recruits come from the restaurant and hospitality sector. "There is a lot of interest," said a Bpost spokeswoman. "We receive an average of 200 requests per week." A CGSP union spokesman said: "There are still a lot of vacancies, for example because many postal workers are retiring, but the number of applications is very high. People are starting to realise that it is a good job with a decent salary."
ING and BNP Paribas Fortis have warned of a growing number of scam text messages. Recipients are told that their bank account "has been placed in quarantine" and to click a link to reactivate it. Don't.
ING bank is cutting the hourly fees and working time of 700 external contractors and consultants until the end of the year, because of the coronavirus pandemic. Freelancers are being asked to take a 20% hourly pay cut and only work four and a half days per week. They must also take five weeks of holiday sometime in the second half of 2020.
The Belgian real estate market has witnessed a slight recovery in June, according to notaries, after a 15.9% year-on-year decline in sales in the second quarter of this year, during the stay-at-home period.
Here's another positive consequence of the coronavirus shutdown: it has never been quicker to get your application for planning permission accepted. Several municipalities in Brussels have managed to clear their previous backlog of dossiers. "We have more time to devote to each application because there are no consultative committees and other meetings," said a Brussels-City spokesperson. It's a similar picture in Evere: "Civil servants no longer have face-to-face appointments with the public. All those hours spent in contact with citizens can now be devoted to processing the administrative formalities and that has had a positive impact." However, this is only true for the simplest of planning permission requests.
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.
Belgium reopened its borders to non-essential travel on 15 June, opening up the possibility to enjoy a foreign holiday within the EU and Schengen area, and the UK, for the first time in three months. Belgium's foreign affairs ministry has updated its website with the latest travel advice, including a colour-coded guide to which countries are fully open (green), open with some restrictions (orange) and still off-limits (red).
Travellers returning to Belgium from an "orange zone" will, finally, be advised to self-isolate. Belgium's communication around travel restrictions, and the "traffic light" system has been confused over the past week, at a time when many travellers need certainty about a planned summer trip. If returning from an orange zone, you should stay at home, take a coronavirus test, keep a close eye on your health, and contact your GP at the first sign of any potential symptoms. Read our travel guide here...
If you need to take a coronavirus test before going on holiday, this PDF document has a list of all the testing centres in Brussels, which are open by appointment only.
From 1 August, anyone returning to Belgium from a foreign holiday should fill in a form 48 hours before travelling, with details of where they have stayed and how they have travelled. The form will be available online in the coming days. It may be required when arriving at a Belgian airport, rail station, or when driving across a foreign border.
Belgium's Passenger Locator Form, which must be filled in online 48 hours before arriving in Belgium, can be found here.
Non-essential travel outside the EU and Schengen area remains restricted. The EU has agreed on a "safe list" of 15 countries, including Australia, Canada and Japan, but Belgium does not plan to implement the relaxed rules until at least 7 July.
Top virologist Marc Van Ranst told VTM Nieuws: "Virologists are not delighted by the opening of European borders. It is a danger. The situation can change overnight in any given country. It is a system that must be followed on a daily basis. We must realise that the virus is still here. You won't find me on a plane this summer. I think the risk is too great. My personal point of view? Stay home."
Eurostar is running a reduced service between Brussels and London and is issuing vouchers to anyone wishing to delay their travel. The vouchers are valid for a year, for travel on any train until December 2021.
International train operator Thalys will gradually increase its operating capacity over the summer, from 20% at present to 50% from 12 July and 60% from 30 August, when 11 Brussels-Paris return trips per day will be available. Tickets are on sale for journeys up to the beginning of October. On-board catering will resume on 12 July. Wearing a mask is compulsory throughout the journey. Low-cost sister company Izy is also resuming Brussels-Paris trains from Fridays to Mondays.
Brussels Airlines is facing dire cashflow problems. Brussels Airlines' parent company, Lufthansa, does not believe that the airline industry will return to pre-coronavirus levels of activity any time soon. It is making long-term adjustments to its flights schedules and withdrawing several dozen craft from its fleet. An existing restructuring plan at Brussels Airlines will be accelerated. The airline has scrapped eight destinations from its timetable until the end of March 2021. Brussels Airlines will no longer serve, at least until the end of March 2021, Seville, Valencia, Bristol, Hanover, Moscow, Billund, Marrakech and Santorini.
Brussels Airlines will make 60 compulsory redunancies as part of its restructuring plan, which has been accelerated due to the coronavirus crisis. "The priority of both management and unions has been to examine all options to avoid compulsory layoffs as much as possible," the airline said. "Thanks to several alternatives, the number of compulsory redunancies has been limited to 60." In addition, 280 workers have opted for voluntary redundancy, while others have taken early retirement or opted to go part-time.
Brussels Airlines will increase its flight schedule from September, depending on market demand and travel restrictions, the airline has announced. This autumn, the airline hopes to operate 45% of its normal flight schedule, using 27 aircraft. Added destinations from September will include Basel, Birmingham, Bologna, Edinburgh, Gothenburg, Milan and Warsaw. Brussels Airlines also hopes to resume its long-haul flights from August, including to Sierra Leone. Anyone with a booking who has to change their travel plans can make a new free reservation any time up to 31 December 2021, to any destination.
Meanwhile, Brussels Airlines says it is "really sorry" after being overwhelmed by phone calls from passengers chasing refunds, seeking travel advice or trying to amend a booking. The airline normally receives 3,000 calls a day. Yesterday it had 34,000. "Our call centre works 24 hours a day and we are answering a maximum number of calls," a spokesperson said. The airline said it was also having to deal with "duplicate" workload, where a passenger makes contact by phone, email and social media with the same query. Anyone chasing a refund has been urged to sit tight and not clog the phone lines, so that passengers who need to make a more urgent change of booking stand a better chance of getting through.
During the coronavirus shutdown, travel agencies were allowed to offer vouchers to customers whose holidays had been cancelled, instead of a refund. Some 200,000 holidaymakers were affected, and these bookings totalled more than €300 million. The temporary arrangement with vouchers, which lasted three months, was contrary to European law and aimed to help firms' cashflow. Federal economy minister Nathalie Muylle has reminded agencies and tour operators that, since mid-June, vouchers can no longer be offered in place of a refund for a cancelled trip. Since Belgium reopened its borders, the justification of force majeure no longer applies. "It is prohibited, and we take it very seriously," Muylle said. "The economic inspectorate has been instructed to investigate this matter and is in the process of doing so."
Brussels Airport has set out its plans for the summer, with 100 destinations available. All passengers entering the airport must wear a mask and will have their temperature checked. Brussels Airport is forecasting a net loss of €200 million this year, and does not expect to make a full recovery until 2023. There was a 99% drop in passenger numbers during the coronavirus shutdown. Brussels Airport welcomed 11,140 passengers on Wednesday 1 July - the first time it has broken the 10,000 mark in more than three months. On Friday 3 July, passenger numbers are expected to reach 15,000, and exceed 20,000 next week.
Brussels Airport has forecast that passenger numbers will not return to pre-corona levels until 2024. "We are now at around 10% of normal capacity," said airport chief executive Arnaud Feist, who estimates the loss so far at €200 million. "But that is still a long way from the traffic levels necessary to ensure the airport is profitable." He said Brussels Airport needed to operating around 50-70% capacity to be viable. August this year is forecast to be more like 25%.
Charleroi airport reopened on 15 June. Ryanair has resumed part of its flights from Charleroi airport. The Irish carrier, which is Charleroi's biggest client, had initially announced it would not resume flights until July. At present, 20 routes to nine different countries are on offer. The rest of the network will be operational from July as planned. Wizzair has also resumed flights from Charleroi, as have Pegasus Airlines and Belavia, flying to Istanbul and Minsk respectively.
Flibco's shuttle bus service from Brussels Midi station to Charleroi airport has resumed. Passengers will board via the back door and wearing a mask is compulsory. Hand sanitiser is available and the toilets are out of use. Shuttle buses from Charleroi to other Belgian cities remain suspended until 31 July.
Ryanair says passengers and crew will have their temperatures checked at the terminal and must wear masks. Social distancing will be "encouraged where possible". Ryanair says it will abolish flight change fees for bookings in July and August, so travellers can adjust their summer plans without penalty. Flights scheduled in the summer months can be moved to any date until 31 December.
Long-distance coach operator Flixbus resumed services in Belgium, the Netherlands and France on 18 June. Passengers must wear a mask throughout their journey and only half of the seats can be occupied. International coach operator Eurolines has gone into liquidation, with services ceasing with immediate effect. Parent company Flixbus began insolvency proceedings at the end of June. Some 36 jobs are under threat, while another 50 employees have already been transfered from Eurolines to Flixbus under a job protection plan. Eurolines said its viability had been "aggravated by the economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic."
Belgians are already making preparations for a stay-at-home summer - one Walloon swimming pool provider has seen a 50% surge in orders for people's homes. One in five people in Belgium have already cancelled their summer holiday plans, according to an Ipsos survey published in Het Nieuwsblad. Three quarters of the 2,100 respondents believe their plans for July or August will fall apart because of the ongoing health crisis.
Motorhome suppliers are struggling to cope with a sudden peak in demand from consumers. According to an Ivox survey for the Belgian Association of Caravans and Motorhomes, two-thirds of Belgians think a motorhome will be their safest way of getting around during the summer holidays. "Over the last three weeks of May, we sold 40 vehicles against 20 usually in this period," one dealer said.
Museums and culture
Cultural activites with an audience resumed on 1 July, with a maximum of 200 participants, including the reopening of cinemas and theatres. This figure was cut to 100 people (indoors) from 29 July. Cultural and creative non-profit associations in Brussels can request a regional bonus of €2,000. The application form to obtain the cash support for culture and the arts will be available at www.primecovid.brussels. Eligible associations must have a headquarters in the Brussels region, employ no more than five full-time equivalent staff and have suffered a loss of revenue during the coronavirus crisis.
The Wallonia-Brussels Federation has launched a new promotion to get people back into cinemas. Some 15,000 cinema tickets are available for just €1, every Tuesday until the end of August via www.jaicinema.be. Participating Brussels cinemas include Aventure, Galeries, Palace and Vendôme.
Bozar has cancelled all of its performances and screenings until 21 July. Mima museum on the canalside in Molenbeek has successfully raised €15,000 from a crowdfunding appeal, after warning that it was in a precarious financial situation. Half of the proceeds above €15,000 will be donated to Saint-Pierre hospital.
The Atomium is facing a deficit of at least €3 million this financial year because of the coronavirus shutdown, down from an €800,000 profit last year. Management have warned that the financial situation "could be fatal to one of the emblems of Belgium" and that financial reserves will be exhausted by the end of the year. Deputy director Julie Almau Gonzalez says: "We still have time to draw up a plan and it is clear that the monument will be saved." The Atomium reopened on 1 June, with a goal of attracting no less than 25% of its normal pre-coronavirus attendance figures.
Mini-Europe, at the foot of the Atomium, has reopened, selling tickets exclusively online. It'll be a quiet restart: 80% of the attraction's visitors are normally foreign tourists. School trips make up a large part of the rest. "This will be our worst year," said the park's owner. "Last year we had 420,000 visitors. If this year we can limit the damage and have between 150,000 and 200,000 visitors, that would already be good."
The 2020 edition of Museum Night Fever, initially scheduled for 14 March and then postponed until 3 October, will not go ahead at all, organisers have announced. The museum all-nighter normally attracts up to 17,000 visitors. Organisers said they would be unable to deliver the event within the current coronavirus safety guidelines. "The limitation on visitor numbers, the compulsory reservation and safety distancing thwarts the spirit of the event, as well as its financial feasibility," they said. Another event, taking a different form, is being planned for October. Anyone who bought tickets for Museum Night Fever can ask for a refund or transfer their tickets over to the new event, once it is announced.
Sales of daily newspaper subscriptions rose considerably during Belgium's coronavirus shutdown, between March and May, especially digital subscriptions. French-language daily Le Soir processed 4.5 times as many subscriptions in April as the same time last year. La Libre, L'Avenir, L'Echo/De Tijd and the Dutch-language dailies published by Mediahuis - De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad - also reported increases ranging from 30 to 60% year on year. Physical newspaper sales, on a per-issue basis, have suffered due to the closure of some shops and airports and a decline in daily commuting.
Visiting a sick relative in hospital has been allowed since 2 June. The coronavirus crisis has prompted several maternity wards around Belgium to permanently rethink their policy on allowing visitors. During the shutdown, only fathers were allowed to visit. According to RTL, several hospitals found that the restrictions were well-received by mothers and staff alike. One mother told RTL: "We felt that staff were much more available, more present and took much more time to care for us." Some maternity wards are considering imposing limits on visitor numbers and visiting hours.
The Belgian Red Cross has launched an urgent appeal for blood donors, as stocks are half their normal levels. There are 16 blood donation centres around the country, by appointment only, and wearing a mask is compulsory.
Medical trade journal Mediquality reports that doctors are being threatened with legal action if they choose not to place a patient in intensive care or give them a respirator. The paper reports of one case, involving a 91-year-old patient in Liège whose family placed pressure on medical personnel. One practitioner said patients were "threatening prosecution if we refuse to hospitalise".
Belgium's hospitals are facing a deficit in the range of €5 to €7 billion because of the coronavirus crisis, according to the chief executives of Brussels' Saint-Pierre and Liège's La Citadelle university hospitals. "We are in the same position as that of Brussels Airlines, but nobody is talking about it," they told Le Soir. Without a public bailout, most Belgian hospitals will finish the year in the red. Routine consultations and surgeries, which come with a fee, have been cancelled, while hospitals' fixed costs - including staff - must still be paid. Saint-Pierre, which was designated as Brussels' go-to hospital for coronavirus treatment, lost €4 million in March, €9 million in April and €10 million in May. A health ministry spokesperson said: "We are discussing with the sector. When we have something to announce, we will announce it."
The City of Brussels has approved a €35 million cash advance to help three of the city's hospitals, which are facing cashflow problems because revenue-generating non-emergency procedures were cancelled during the shutdown.
The federal health ministry says people with an ongoing health problem should continue to seek treatment and attend follow-up consultations with their doctor. "When you need care, you have to go to your doctor, but we ask that you make a phone call to your doctor so that he can guide you and organise with you the best way to provide continuity in your care," the ministry said.
Doctors have reported a 60% spike in consultations since the stay-at-home restrictions were gradually lifted. The surge has happened because many patients chose to put off seeing a doctor during the peak of the epidemic. According to a new study by UC Louvain, half of people in Belgium have put off some form of medical treatment during the coronavirus crisis. The most common were dental care, physiotherapy, speech therapy and visits to GPs. The medical sector is likely to feel the strain from these delayed appointments in the coming months. The report's authors wrote: "We focused on treating people who were in dire need and needed to be saved. But other people who had a regular need for care could not be seen. And their health has deteriorated as a result. We experienced a first wave linked to the coronavirus - it is possible that we have a second wave in our care system which is going to be linked to all these chronic health problems which were not managed in time and which have grown."
Health insurer Solidaris says it is "unacceptable" that some healthcare providers are adding a "coronavirus surcharge" to their fees - and has called for these to be urgently regulated. It is aware of some dentists billing an extra €20 to €50 to cover the cost of extra hygiene measures. Federal health minister Maggie De Block has banned healthcare professionals from charging a "coronavirus supplement" to cover the cost of extra hygiene measures. "Accessibility to care cannot be threatened," said De Block. "By introducing a general ban on charging 'corona supplements', we are ensuring that no patient has to bear an extra cost." The ban applies retroactively from 4 May. Patients who have been overcharged should contact their healthcare provider directly or their mutuelle.
A mural paying tribute to Belgium's healthcare staff has appeared on the side of an abandoned CPAS building in Ixelles. The location was chosen because it can be seen from the neighbouring Etterbeek-Ixelles hospital. Artist Amadine Lesay said the mural was dedicated "not only to doctors and nurses, but cleaners and security staff - everyone is represented."
Waste and recycling
All household waste collections in Brussels have returned to normal - meaning separate collections for white, yellow, blue and green/orange waste. Previously rubbish in some communes was collected in one round, meaning recyclable waste went straight to the incinerator.
The number of complaints for illegal flytipping in Brussels has more than doubled since people were ordered to stay at home. Last year, Bruxelles Propreté received 677 complaints about illegally dumped waste between mid-March and mid-April. This year, the figure was 1,524. According to Bruxelles Propreté, the phenomenon mainly concerns household waste deposited at the foot of trees or next to public bins.
Brussels' Recypark dumps have returned to their regular opening hours, with the obligation to a wear a mask. In recent weeks they had only been open in the mornings, by appointment. The dumps are still to be used only for urgent disposals, not a regular spring clean-out of your home. Charity shops in Belgium are appealing for people not to throw away their unwanted items, but to wait until the coronavirus restrictions are lifted and then donate them. With municipal dumps gradually reopening, it might be tempting to have a big spring clearout. In Wallonia alone, second-hand shops and organisations keep 8,000 people in jobs and generate much-needed revenue for good causes.
Utilities and home help
The Brussels government has agreed several measures to help cleaners and other household helpers in Brussels who were employed under the service vouchers scheme. Their take-home pay is among the worst in Belgium, averaging €11.65 gross per hour, which means they will receive the bare minimum payment during their temporary unemployment. Brussels has agreed to reassess how much they are paid during the shutdown - effectively adding €2.50 gross to their hourly wage for the purposes of the calculation. The titres-services companies that hire home helpers will receive an extra €2 per voucher until further notice.
Vivaqua has announced that it will not cut off any domestic water supplies for non-payment until the end of March 2021. The Brussels water supplier announced in March that it would be lenient with customers in arrears, initially until the end of June. By extending the gesture until October, the measure effectively applies until next spring, because cut-offs are not permitted by law during the winter months.
A ban on evictions in the Brussels region has been extended to the end of August. Secretary of state for housing Nawal Ben Hamou said: "It is essential to continue to protect the most vulnerable tenants. The crisis will be felt far beyond the easing of the stay-at-home measures. This protective measure gives tenants a certain stability while awaiting social assistance or a rehousing solution."
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.
Rent, mortgage and tax
Details have been confirmed for the Brussels region's one-off €214 grant for tenants who have suffered a loss of income due to coronavirus. The premium is available to employees and the self-employed and is limited to one per household. Only one adult in a household needs to meet the criteria to apply. To be eligible, you must rent your main residence in the Brussels region, from a private landlord, have signed the lease before 14 March and prove a decline or total loss of income during the coronavirus crisis. The payment is means-tested and depends on whether your household has one income or several, and how many dependent children you have. To benefit, your net household income must be lower than €34,924 for a single person with no kids, €38,805 for a single-income household with no kids and €44,348 for a dual-income household without children. If you have children, the threshold ranges from €42,131 to €64,305.
Banks are prepared to allow a break in mortgage payments, without penalty, on a case-by-case basis, the banking federation Febelfin said. "Don't wait until the problems become too serious," the federation says. "By anticipating, you can avoid the worst. Your banker will explore the possibilities with you." Febelfin says payment holidays have been agreed on €1 billion worth of lending - both for individuals and businesses. The Brussels region has extended the deadline for paying property tax (précompte immobilier) from two months to four. Bills are normally sent out in the summer.
If you have already applied for a mortgage payment holiday, it will be possible to request a further extension. The measure was due to expire on 31 October, but will now run until the end of the year. The further extension is subject to the borrower proving that they are still suffering financially from the consequences of the coronavirus crisis. New applicants for the payment holiday are also being accepted. The deadline is 30 September.
A payment holiday will soon be possible for anyone with consumer credit, such as a car loan. Lenders can grant, upon request, a three-month payment holiday, renewable up to six months, if at least one of the named borrowers can demonstrate a loss of income due to the coronavirus crisis, provided they do not have more than €25,000 in savings.
There will be no face-to-face help sessions for filling out this year's Belgian income tax return. In the past, tax officials have set up drop-in sessions in shopping centres and public buildings around the coutnry. It will instead be possible to book an appointment for an advice session by telephone. Details will be available in the tax return pack that you should be receiving shortly.
The Belgian state suffered an 84% drop in VAT revenues in April, compared with the same period last year. Economic activity in Belgium generated €600 million in VAT this April, compared with €3.8 billion a year ago. The coronavirus crisis will leave large holes in the finances of many Belgian municipalities, RTBF reports. Individuals' loss of earnings will have a knock-on effect on local tax revenue, as well as placing extra strain on social services. Rent on municipal buildings, including cinemas, will also be substantially lower this year.
Property prices in Belgium are forecast to fall by 3% in 2020, the first drop since 1983, according to KBC bank. "The drop in income caused by the coronavirus crisis will severely affect household demand for housing," it said.
Small gatherings are allowed - indoors or outdoors - with a total of 10 people, including the people with whom you live. This could be a meal in a restaurant, a picnic in a park or a visit to someone's home, for example. Children under 12 are not counted.
Belgium's stricter coronavirus measures, introduced on 29 July, mean only 10 people can attend a wedding ceremony - or the reception that follows. And they cannot dance. "Can I dance at a private reception or banquet?" is one of the questions recently added to the official coronavirus info website. "No, this is not allowed," the site says. "During wedding receptions, only the first dance between the newlyweds is allowed." Erika Vlieghe, chair of the coronavirus exit strategy group, said dancing helped spread the virus, as participants were close together, breathing more heavily and singing.
At funerals, the body of the deceased cannot be on display. The Brussels government has implemented a decree requiring the bodies of dead people to be immediately transported to a morgue or funeral home as soon as they have been pronounced dead, whether from Covid-19 or not, unless a doctor can certify that the victim died of natural causes and presents no danger to public health. Coronavirus can still be carried up to three days after death.
Animal refuges in Belgium have been allowed to reopen, for anyone seeking to adopt or give up a pet. Visits must be booked in advance and limited to one person at a time. Animal crematoriums can also reopen, providing social distancing rules are followed.
A safety protocol has been approved for Belgium's sex workers to resume their activities. Hydroalcoholic gel and masks must be supplied to clients on arrival. It is recommended that both parties take a shower at the start. Bedsheets should be changed after each appointment, or bedding be used that can be wiped clean with disinfectant. One sex worker in Saint-Josse told RTBF: "It will be quite a job to explain to the client what is at stake: our life, his life and that of his family."
Court proceedings in Brussels have gradually resumed. Courtrooms have been rearranged to ensure social distancing can be maintained. Mechelen criminal court was the first in Belgium to start using videoconferencing for its trials.
Belgium's prison population has been reduced by 10% in the past month to 9,870 - although the country's prisons remain overcrowded, with 9,500 available places. The decrease can be partly explained by a fall in crime, but also a decision by the authorities to postpone new prison sentences for small offenders. Some inmates nearing the end of their sentence who have underlying health conditions have also been freed early and ordered to stay at home with an electronic tag. Prisoners have made 32,500 masks. They have distributed to prison and courtroom cleaners, lawyers visiting clients in jail and 2,000 for the European Parliament.
Prisoners with coronavirus whose condition does not require a trip to hospital are currently being transferred to the medical unit at Bruges prison, where 11 of the 25 available beds are occupied. In order to prepare for a possible increase in the number of cases in prisons, it is proposed that a disused hospital in Vilvoorde be repurposed. The Belgian army is ready to lend a hand to get the facility ready.
Prison visits are allowed again. Inmates had been unable to see relatives for several weeks, after a first case of coronavirus in Mons prison was recorded the previous day. The loss of contact led to riots in some prisons and prompted authorities to offer free telephone minutes and videoconferencing capabilities to detainees. Work is under way to determine how prison visits can be arranged safely, with reduced visiting times, plexiglass screens and no mixing up of inmates from different wards.
The Brussels region has relaxed the rules on visits to retirement homes. Each resident will be allowed to receive up to four people each week, with a maximum of two people at the same time. They can also take part in supervised outings organised by the care home - and, since 1 July, non-supervised outings. Holidaymakers returning to Brussels from a red or orange zone will not be allowed to visit a resident in an elderly care home for 14 days following their return, it has been announced.
Residential care homes in Flanders have tightened up rules for visiting residents in response to the increasing number of coronavirus infections in the wider population. But the measures stop short of a complete lockdown. It will now be mandatory for all visitors to care homes to wear face masks and to keep a distance of 1.5 metres, even if the person they are visiting is part of their social bubble. Shaking hands, kissing or hugging will no longer be permitted during visits. The taskforce also wants to see visits take place in the open air or in designated meeting places, rather than in residents' rooms. Cafeterias can be used, as long as there is a screen between the resident and the visitors. Leaving the care home as part of the visit is not ruled out, as long as the usual safety measures are followed, and there has been no spike in Covid-19 cases in the locality.
Robotics company ZoraBots in Ostend is sending out its James robot to rest homes in Belgium free of charge during the outbreak of the virus. All ZoraBots are small humanoid designs and can roll in and out of residents’ rooms. The James will specifically ask residents if they would like to make a video call to their loved ones. It’s voice activated, so the elderly residents – the most vulnerable to the virus – do not have to touch any screens or buttons. The City of Brussels has opened a phone line for senior citizens in need: 0800 35 550.
Wallonia relaxed its coronavirus measures in care homes from 1 July. Each home should resume group activities and communal dining. Residents can also leave the facility for a few hours to visit family, go shopping, for a walk or a meal in a restaurant. From 22 June the restrictions on one visit per week were lifted. Residents will be free to see relatives more regularly and for longer, always with a maximum of two visitors at any one time.
Brussels health minister Alain Maron has approved a "second wave" plan for the region's care homes, including several preventative measures to prepare the sector for a possible resurgence in cases. They include a central purchasing system for protective equipment, which will build up a three-month stock. Maron said: "We cannot be as unprepared as we were in the early stages of the coronavirus crisis, where nursing homes were in need of equipment and training. There are now protocols in place so that if a second wave arrives, the procedures are clear." Care homes have until 31 July to draw up their own crisis management plan. Extra training sessions for staff are planned between now and 15 September.
New data from Sciensano shows that, of the 8,343 care home residents who tested positive for coronavirus between 8 April and 18 May, about three quarters of them showed no symptoms. ULB expert Yves Coppieters says widespread coronavirus testing in retirement homes must continue, in order to detect cases early.
It's no surprise, but summer tourism in Brussels this year is "a disaster", according to an initial analysis by the Brussels Hotels Association. Foreign tourists are in short supply, and Belgian staycationers are opting for the Ardennes or the coast. Only half of hotels in the capital are open - and among those, 20% of rooms in July were booked. "This is a disaster for the Brussels hotel sector," said Brussels Hotels Association director Rodolphe Van Weyenbergh. Normally 85% of customers in Brussels hotels are foreign travellers.
Hotels in Brussels will receive financial support from the region's government totalling €200 per month per room. The aid will apply retrospectively from mid-March and is due to expire at the end of August. It aims to help hotels cover part of their fixed costs and thus ensure their survival.
The Brussels region will provide grants totalling €2 million to help boost business tourism. The grants of up to €50,000 are available to organisers of B2B events, such as international trade conferences, fairs and exhibitions where an overnight stay in Brussels is required. Business travel, pre-coronavirus, accounted for 52% of hotel stays in the city.
Etterbeek, Anderlecht, Forest and Saint-Gilles requisitioned hotels to provide accommodation for the homeless. The Brussels government has made an extra €4 million available to support the homeless during the coronavirus crisis. Doctors Without Borders has opened a triage and accommodation facility at Tour & Taxis for vulnerable people. The facility has 50 beds, expandable to 150 if necessary, and will be jointly run with the Samusocial and the Citizen Support Platform for Refugees. This project aims to enable homeless people and migrants who think they are infected with coronavirus to self-isolate and receive medical attention.
The European Parliament made a vast building on Square de Meeûs available to the Brussels region to use as it sees fit in the coronavirus response - and 100 chauffeur-driven cars. "These cars can be used, for example, to deliver home shopping for isolated elderly people, or for any other useful cause in the health crisis," the parliament's secretary-general said. The European Parliament's canteens will make 1,000 meals a day to be distributed to the city's most vulnerable residents, as well as those working in hospitals.
Health institute Sciensano is appealing for volunteers to take a survey on how the coronavirus restrictions are affecting your physical and mental health. Meanwhile, Brussels mental health professionals have set up a helpline to listen to residents' worries and point them in the direction of further help. The number is 025 01 01 27, or see www.lbfsm.be
A new working group on mental health has been set up to examine the psycho-social impact of the coronavirus crisis. The group is made up of French and Dutch-speaking experts and representatives of organisations including Inami. Their work will help inform the approach taken by Belgium's "deconfinement" committee, which is looking at how best to gradually ease the coronavirus restrictions.
The University of Liège is carrying out a study into what effect the coronavirus restrictions is having on your sleep and memory.
More details here. And VUB unversity is carrying out research on what effect the coronavirus measures are having on pregnant women. See www.promom.be to take part.
Since the outbreak began, almost 250 separate pieces of university research have been launched into different elements of the pandemic. Now a new initiative has brought all those pieces of research together in one place. Some of them have already been published, others are a work in progress. See www.covid19-wb.be
Without the order to stay at home, coronavirus would have killed at least 60,000 people in Belgium, according to biostatistician Geert Molenberghs, instead of the 10,000 it currently has. According to his estimates, 60% of people would have been infected with the virus had life continued as normal following the outbreak. Instead, about 10% of people are believed to have come into contact with the virus.
Read more on The Bulletin
- Coronavirus in Belgium: The latest developments (updated daily)
- Coronavirus in Belgium: Should we be wearing masks?
- Coronavirus in Belgium: Your general questions answered
Belgium's Passenger Locator Form, which must be filled in online 48 hours before arriving in Belgium, can be found here.