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Updated: Our practical guide to how Belgium's coronavirus measures affect you

04:04 14/10/2021
Last updated: Friday 15 October

The Covid Safe Ticket

The Brussels parliament has confirmed the introduction of the Covid Safe Ticket from this Friday, 15 October. However, no sanctions will be issued during an initial awareness-raising phase, the exact details of which are yet to be determined by the region's 19 mayors. The Covid Safe Ticket is already in use at major events, where its use will now be extended by three months, unless there is a significant improvement in the coronavirus situation before then. From Friday, it will also apply to restaurants and cafes (except their outdoor terraces), party venues, sports and fitness clubs, trade fairs, congresses, museums and other cultural venues, as well as when visiting hospitals and retirement homes. Eventual sanctions will range from €50 to €500 for individuals, while venue owners and event organisers could be fined up to €2,500 if they are found to not be carrying out adequate checks. Staff at the affected venues are not required to have a Covid Safe Ticket to come to work.

There are three ways to obtain a Covid Safe Ticket. You can download it online via masante.belgique.be (you will need an e-ID reader or have set up the ItsMe app), or download the CovidSafeBe smartphone app. Alternatively, it's possible to receive a printed certificate by post. In Brussels, the call centre number is 02 214 19 19.

Outside Brussels, the Covid Safe Ticket is required for all events with an audience of at least 500 people indoors and 750 outdoors. In Brussels, it applies from 50 people indoors and 200 outdoors.

Between 800 and 1,000 people demonstrated in Liège against the introduction of the Covid Safe Ticket in Wallonia. "We find the health pass completely discriminatory and anti-democratic," said one of the event's organisers. "We are the victims, we were not consulted and we had no choice."

Francophone education minister Caroline Désir has confirmed that the Covid Safe Ticket will not apply to students or teachers taking part in extra-curricular activities, such as school trips to a sports club or theatre.

Cafes, restaurants and nightclubs

The introduction of the Covid Safe Ticket in Brussels cafes and restaurants on 15 October does not apply to outdoor terraces - but what if a non-vaccinated customer needs to visit the toilet? "When someone is on a terrace, who does not have a Covid Safe Ticket, and they want to go to the bathroom inside the restaurant, they will have to put on a mask," a spokeswoman for Brussels minister-president Rudi Vervoort has confirmed.

After a year and a half of total closure, several nightclubs in Belgium reopened their doors at midnight on 1 October, including the Jeux d'Hiver in Brussels. Since 1 October, dancing has also been allowed in cafes and the 1.00 closing time is lifted. 

Vaccines

The health ministers of each of Belgium's regions have reached an agreement on the rollout of a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine for over-65s. Invitations will be sent out at least four months after the second dose of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine was administered, and at least six months after the second Pfizer or Moderna jab. The third dose will always be a messenger RNA vaccine (so Pfizer or Moderna, not Astra-Zeneca). Invitations will be sent out in descending age order, starting with over-85s. Residents of nursing homes and people with underlying health conditions are also being invited for a third dose.

News that the Covid Safe Ticket will be introduced at many venues in Wallonia  has prompted a sharp increase in people registering for a vaccination appointment in the region. Walloon health minister Christie Morreale said: "In the 24 hours after the announcement, we recorded five times more appointments to get vaccinated (4,000 in a single day). Plus, many people turned up spontaneously to get vaccinated without an appointment."

Masks

Where do I need to wear a mask? From 1 October, the rules have changed depending on which region you're in. Flanders has taken a relaxed approach - no more compulsory masks in shops, libraries, town halls, or when moving around a cafe or restaurant. In Brussels and Wallonia, the rules remain unchanged. The only sector where all three regions can agree on is nightclubs. They open this Friday, with visitors required to show their Covid Safe Ticket to get in. Masks and distancing are then not required.

While Wallonia decided to not relax the rules on mask-wearing from 1 October, a legal anomaly made the rules unenforceable for the first 36 hours. A provincial decree had to be signed by the governors of all five Walloon provinces and sent to every mayor. This did not happen until the afternoon of 2 October. Maxime Daye, president of the Walloon Union of Cities and Towns, said: "It looks like, on 30 September, someone in the Walloon administration suddenly remembered that no decision had been taken. There is a legal vacuum between 1 October and 14.38 on 2 October." Anyone fined for not respecting the mask rules during this period can, in theory, have the fine overturned.

Healthcare

The Red Cross has made another urgent appeal for blood donations. Blood stocks had recovered well after the previous appeal at the end of July, but are now at critically low levels. Many routine blood donation exercises - in businesses and schools - have not gone ahead this year. See www.donneurdesang.be

An estimated 300,000 to 350,000 people in Belgium are suffering some form of "long Covid", with symptoms continuing six months after infection. According to Ann Li, founder of the Flemish Association of Post-Covid Patients, the most common long-term symptoms range from muscle pain and tiredness to memory loss.

Education and young people

A new study by UCLouvain and ULB reveals the impact coronavirus is having on students' mental health and wellbeing. More than 3,000 students took part in the survey between April and June this year. Seven out of 10 respondents said they were "very" stressed and a third showed symptoms of severe anxiety. Just over a third reported moderate insomnia. Some 29% of students said they had sought help from a healthcare professional.

Travel

Brussels Airlines has reported a significant improvement in bookings in recent weeks, with travellers making more long-term holiday plans - and not just booking quick trips at the last minute. "This is a very positive sign, which shows that our customers are also seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and that they are starting to plan their holidays for 2022," the airline said. Brussels Airlines will add 29 European destinations to its summer schedule, three in the Middle East, 18 in Africa and two in North America. Popular Spanish destinations will be served several times a day, and the airline is reinforcing its flight schedule to the Greek Islands.

Belgian rail operator SNCB will no longer require passengers to wear a mask on station platforms - provided they are outdoors, federal mobility minister Georges Gilkinet has confirmed.

Testing

The Belgian federal government spent almost €20 million on coronavirus testing facilities that were under-used, Het Laatste Nieuws reported. Last year, the government provided emergency funding to eight universities to set up "super labs", each capable of processing up to 7,000 tests per day. The labs were each paid a fixed fee of €8.64 million per year - a figure that was not based on the number of tests actually carried out, which turned out to be substantially lower than the target.

Leisure

Walibi amusement park reopened its doors after several months of interruption following this summer's floods. Wearing a mask is compulsory - until the Covid Safe Ticket is fully implemented in Wallonia later this month.

After being disrupted last year because of the coronavirus shutdown, Brussels' Winter Wonders is expected to go ahead from 26 November to 2 January. "The City of Brussels and the organisers are in constant contact with the competent authorities and will comply with any decisions taken regarding the health situation," the organisers said on their Facebook page.

Work

Unemployment among under-25s in Brussels has fallen back to pre-pandemic levels, down 11% in a year at 9,311, according to the latest figures from Actiris.

Written by The Bulletin