The platform for Belgium's international community

Search form

menu menu
  • Daily & Weekly newsletters
  • Buy & download The Bulletin
  • Comment on our articles

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

04:06 18/06/2021

What's the latest?

After months of wearing facemasks outdoors, interfederal spokesman Yves Van Laethem has confirmed what we suspected: there is no reason to wear one outside when there are few people around, unless you having a close face-to-face conversation with someone. Brussels' outdoor mask requirement is lifted this Wednesday. In enclosed places, such as public transport and shops, it remains compulsory.

The lifting of Brussels' region-wide facemask requirement means each municipality is now free to set its own rules. In Brussels-City, masks are only compulsory on one street: Rue Neuve. A few other municipalities have so far published their list of applicable streets - Forest, Schaerbeek, Saint-Josse, Molenbeek, Koekelberg and Evere. Ganshoren and Anderlecht will not require masks on any streets. Other mayors contacted by Le Soir said they did not plan to publish a list, instead relying on residents' "common sense". Check your municipality's website to be certain.

More than a quarter of French-speaking Belgians say they have lost trust in traditional media since the coronavirus crisis hit, according to a study by UCLouvain. Mistrust in the media has grown from 12.6% at the start of the pandemic to 28.9% today. Communications professor Grégoire Lits said the pandemic had led some people to seek information from alternative sources, including social media. He said the challenge was "trying to reach these people directly through relatives or health professionals, through word of mouth".

Eating/drinking

Belgium's "outdoor plan" came into force on 8 May. The reopening of cafe and restaurant terraces went ahead as planned, as the two conditions that were set have now been met: more than 80% of over-65s have been vaccinated, and the situation in hospitals and intensive care wards has improved. According to small business union SNI, 62% of cafe and restaurants reopened their terraces on 8 May.

Saint-Gilles has voted to grant a special one-off grant to the municipality's 400 cafe and restaurant owners to compensate them for proven loss of turnover during the coronavirus shutdowns. Venues with up to a 40% decline in revenue will receive €500. Those losing more than 60% of their takings will be given €1,100.

A 48-page health protocol has been drawn up for cafe and restaurant owners as they prepare to welcome customers indoors from 9 June. Up to four people can sit up to the table, unless part of a bigger family living under the same roof (children up to 12 do not count). If there are fabric tablecloths, they must be removed after each sitting and washed at 60°C. There should be no salt and pepper shakers or bread baskets on the table - and menus should be hung on the wall or made available online. Venues must close by 22.00 indoors and 23.00 on the terrace. They must also install an air quality measuring device, visible to the public. If the CO2 concentration exceeds 900ppm, the venue must find better ventilation. Readings above 1200ppm could lead to a restaurant or cafe being shut down. A website with more information has been set up at www.corona-ventilation.be

Anecdotal evidence from some cafe and restaurant owners suggests the requirement to eat and drink outdoors has led to an increase in the number of customers walking off without paying. Some restaurant workers in Tournai, interviewed by Nord Eclair newspaper, said they were losing between 5% and 10% of their turnover from this form of theft. Many are now requiring payment up-front.

A ministerial decree sets out the rules that must be followed when restaurants and cafes reopen their terraces. Tables are limited to four people, except for households with more than four people. Venues can open from 8.00 to 22.00. Customers must be served at their table and staff should wear a surgical mask. It will only be possible for customers to go inside to access the toilets or pay their bill. Reservations are not required and businesses will not have to keep a log of customers' contact details. Tables should be spaced at least 1.5 metres apart. It's also been confirmed that customers are allowed to enter a restaurant or cafe briefly to access a terrace at the back. You cannot head indoors if it starts to rain in the middle of your meal or drink.

The use of plexiglass between cafe tables is banned. Some venues had hoped to space their tables less than 1.5m apart by separating them with a screen to stop aerosols spreading from one table to the next. The protocol sent to cafe owners, setting out the rules for reopening, even mentioned plexiglass (at least 1.8 metres high) - but this was an error, copied over from the rules when cafes last reopened in summer 2020. Brussels-City alderman for commerce Fabian Maingain said the mix-up was "amateurish". "We are not going to comply with it," said Ghent mayor Mathias De Clercq.

Brussels fire brigade has reminded cafe and restaurant owners that their newly extended terraces must not block emergency access to any street. "We are delighted that social life in the Brussels region is gradually resuming," the fire brigade said. "The reopening of the catering terraces is an important step. Terrace extension projects cannot reduce the width of the roadway accessible to fire vehicles. The installation of these terraces also cannot hinder the access of emergency vehicles to buildings inside a block or which are not on the streetfront." Terrace furniture must be easy to move and fire hydrants should not be blocked.

Daytrips/sightseeing

Ostend will reinstate its beach registration system this summer, to manage the influx of tourists to its most popular stretches of coast. Reservations will be free and only necessary on the busiest days. The system is not just for daytrippers and holidaymakers, but also Ostend residents. The sand sculpture festival is not taking place this summer, in order to create extra space for sitting on the beach. Mayor Bart Tommelein said: ""This summer, thanks to the success of the vaccination campaign, much more will be possible, but we need to take into account, however, that there will still be some restrictions. The response to our reservation system was very positive last year. We were able to guarantee respect for social distancing and the resulting sense of security for Ostend residents and visitors."

More than a thousand passengers took advantage of the SNCB's new Coast Express service during its trial weekend - reservation-only trains to the seaside from Ghent, Liège, Brussels and Antwerp. The rail operator will carry out an assessment of how the booking system worked, before deciding whether to implement it over the summer.

Vaccines

Anyone living in Brussels aged 18 and over can book their coronavirus vaccine via Bru-Vax or by calling 02 214 19 19. The waiting list is now open to anyone aged 16 and 17.

The Brussels region is planning to organise other walk-in vaccination sessions without an appointment, after this week's experiment in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre. "We are considering organising late-night openings in other centres," said a spokeswoman for the Cocom. "We are also thinking about a vaccination marathon."

Brussels' coronavirus vaccination centres have been told to show compassion and common sense if a mother brings her newborn baby with her to the vaccine appointment. RTBF reports that one mother was turned away from the Heysel vaccination centre, despite explaining that she needed to stay with her one-month-old baby to breastfeed. She rebooked her appointment for the following day and was almost turned away again. Staff wanted to know who would look after the baby if the mother had an allergic reaction to the jab. A Cocom spokeswoman said: "While we advise people to come alone to be vaccinated, this is not always possible. We are asking Brussels' vaccination centres to be flexible. We must not create an unnecessary hurdle."

Police have arrested two workers at a vaccination centre in Pepinster, who are suspected of corruption. The pair are accused of offering unvaccinated people a document proving they have been vaccinated, in return for a €200 payment. They face charges of forgery and computer fraud.

Saint-Josse will keep its municipal vaccination unit open until at least 13 July. So far 1,296 people have used the centre, which was set up to encourage people to get vaccinated locally, as the municipality had one of the lowest vaccine take-up rates in the Brussels region. Saint-Josse has now gone from having 19% of adults vaccinated in early May to 64% a month later.

Brussels' Common Community Commission (Cocom), which organises the region's vaccination campaign, is carrying out a multilingual awareness-raising campaign in collaboration with the municipality of Saint-Gilles, where vaccine takeup is notably lower than other parts of the city. Similar initiatives have already been carried out in Saint-Josse, Molenbeek and Anderlecht. A local vaccination unit has been set up at the Four Seasons School on Place Bethlehem. If you live locally and it's your turn for a jab, call them on 0800 35 176.

Wallonia has decided to no longer offer people the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine as a first dose. This is for vaccine planning purposes: the relatively small reserve of AstraZeneca doses that the region has available, and forthcoming deliveries, will be set aside as second doses. This is to ensure that 359,000 people who have already received their first jab are guaranteed a second jab on time. While the AstraZeneca vaccine is just as effective as others being administered in Belgium, supply schedules have been slightly less reliable.

There are currently 27,000 people on the Brussels waiting list for vaccination, according to the latest Cocom figures. So far, 688,405 doses have been administered in the Brussels region. This week, 69,000 jabs are scheduled, and 74,000 the following week. Some 78% of Brussels residents over 65 are now vaccinated.

Belgium's health ministers have agreed to open up the coronavirus vaccination programme to 16 and 17-year-olds this summer, once all over-18s have been offered the jab. In Brussels, at-risk patients aged 16 and 17 will start being invited to get vaccinated from this week. Parental consent is not required. Currently, only the Pfizer/BioNTech has been approved for use among this age group.

Since the coronavirus vaccination campaign began, 478,000 first doses have been administered in Brussels. But about a quarter of those went to people who are not resident in the Brussels region. In some cases, this was intentional: care-home and medical staff, for example, who work in Brussels but live across the border in Flanders or Wallonia were vaccinated in the capital. But there have also been cases of fraud: people registering on the Bru-Vax website with a fake postcode, which was not checked. According to public health institute Sciensano, the reverse - Brussels residents getting vaccinated in another region - has not occurred. Brussels health minister Alain Maron is trying to negotiate a reallocation of future doses, to make up for those "lost" to non-residents.

The European Medicines Agency has granted Pfizer approval to expand the production and packaging facilities at its plant in Puurs, Antwerp province. The EMA said this would have a "significant and immediate impact" on vaccine supply throughout the European Union. The agency said Pfizer's Belgian plant had been "consistently producing high-quality vaccines" - and the volume of vaccines produced there could now be increased.

Belgium has stopped administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to people under 41 following the death of a woman in her 30s from blood clots after being vaccinated at the embassy where she worked.

Wallonia will begin a promotional push to encourage the remaining over-50s in the region to book their vaccination appointment without further delay. This can be done by calling 0800 45 019. Speedy appointments are available at three vaccination centres where there are surplus doses until 2 June: Mons Expo, Namur Expo and Pepinster.

Belgium's vaccination campaign is suffering from a lack of visibility in terms of delivery dates by some suppliers. Johnson & Johnson has said it can only deliver 900,000 of the 1.4 million vaccines it had initially promised by the end of June. AstraZeneca will deliver 335,000 doses next Monday, several days late, when 374,000 had been expected. Pfizer's next batch will be 656,000 instead of 733,000. The majority of vaccine appointments are currently for second doses. Moderna, meanwhile, has confirmed its delivery schedule up until the end of July.

The Brussels municipalities where vaccination take-up is the lowest will offer face-to-face help at the town hall for anyone having trouble registering on the Bruvax website. Regional minister for digital transition, Bernard Clerfayt, said there was a digital divide which meant people from various age groups and ethnic backgrounds risked being left behind. Help will be made available in Saint-Josse, Saint-Gilles, the City of Brussels, Schaerbeek, Molenbeek and Koekelberg.

More than 70% of Belgium's 1.5 million "at-risk" residents have received at least their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, the vaccination taskforce has confirmed. Most of the remaining invitations have been sent out, with just 6,000 still to go. It is possible to check whether you are in an at-risk category via the website www.myhealthviewer.be. Underlying health conditions include heart, kidney, liver or respiratory disease, high blood pressure, cancer, obesity, diabetes or dementia. Pregnant women can also be added to the priority vaccination list, via their GP or gynecologist.

Belgium has begun vaccinating asylum seekers. Federal migration agency Fedasil has been carrying out awareness campaigns in several languages among residents of the country's asylum centres. Staff are being vaccinated at the same time.

People who have recently been infected with coronavirus should still be given two doses of the vaccine, Belgium's Superior Health Council has ruled. France has opted for a single injection if patients have already had the virus. According to ULB immunologist Michel Goldman: "If you have already contracted Covid, the second dose will not give you additional protection. Studies indicate that." However, Sabine Stordeur, co-leader of Belgium's vaccination task force, said: "Even if an individual has developed very high levels of antibodies, we are not sure of optimal protection."

Accessibility changes have been made this week at Forest vaccination and testing centre. People visiting for a test will still enter and leave via Avenue Jupiter, while people being vaccinated will instead use a side entrance and exit on Chaussée d'Alsemberg.

Belgium has committed to buy additional doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine over the next two years, to be used for children and as follow-up booster doses for adults. The country has committed to a contract between the European Commission and the pharmaceutical firm. The total European order is for 900 million extra doses. Flemish health minister Wouter Beke said: "This makes it possible to have a suitable vaccine within four months in the event of new variants."

The Brussels region has begun vaccinating homeless people since this week. About 5,000 people without stable accommodation will be vaccinated over the coming four months.

The Brussels municipalities of Molenbeek and Saint-Josse have begun administering coronavirus vaccines in their town hall, in an attempt to reach people who cannot easily travel to the nearest vaccination centre. Municipal staff are approaching people at local markets, advising them of the new local possibility to get vaccinated. The municipalities have among the lowest vaccine take-up rates in the Brussels region - and many residents are not even registered with a local doctor.

Belgium's vaccination taskforce is looking into vaccinating 16 and 17-year-olds this summer. At present, the vaccination timetable only covers over-18s. The Pfizer vaccine has received approval from the European Medicines Agency for use from the age of 16. The producer has recently submitted clinical trial results to the EMA which showed the vaccine could be effective for 12 to 15-year-olds as well. If approved, this age group could be in line to receive a jab when school resumes in September.

Belgium is expected to be one of the countries that will participate in a pilot phase for a new European Covid certificate, which should make it easier to travel around member states this summer. The certificate provides proof of vaccination, a negative PCR test or a positive antibody test following a recent coronavirus infection. Belgium needs to join up two separate databases for the certificate to work: vaccinations are recorded in Vaccinet, while PCR test results are stored by Sciensano.

Wallonia and Flanders have both entered "phase 2" of their vaccination campaigns - the general public. People aged 18-65 will receive an invitation to get vaccinated. The letters are being sent out in descending age order.

Flanders is spending significantly less on its vaccination campaign than Wallonia and Brussels, according to a new report by the Flemish Inspectorate of Finances. Belgium's three regions foot the bill for 20% of the vaccination effort, with the federal government making up the remaining 80%. On a per-dose basis, Flanders is spending €9.66, Brussels €13.71 and Wallonia €22.42. According to De Standaard, nursing staff are paid more in Wallonia and Brussels.

Several thousand residents of Flanders and Wallonia have jumped the queue and been vaccinated in Brussels by giving a false postcode on the Bruvax website. Brussels is vaccinating people aged 41+ at the moment, while the other regions have only just started vaccinating under-65s. Bruvax requires two pieces of data: your national register number and postcode, but workers at vaccination centres rarely cross-reference to the two. "It is no longer worth trying the trick now," said Inge Neven, who runs the Brussels vaccination campaign. "We will systematically scan the identity cards before proceeding with the injection of the first dose." Those who cheated and received their first dose in this way will still be allowed to have their second dose in Brussels on time. Brussels will ask for the vaccine distribution in the coming weeks to be recalculated to take into account the lost doses which should have gone to Brussels residents.

Seeing people

The federal crisis centre has issued some reminders on how to safely watch the Euro 2020 football tournament this summer. At a publicly organised event, up to 400 people are allowed outdoors (200 indoors) - but you should stay in groups of four and keep a 1.5-metre distance from other groups. If a venue serves food or drink, you must remain seated. You can watch matches in your living room with a maximum of four people, or in your garden with up to 50 people.

The night-time curfew in Belgium has been lifted. The curfew in Brussels until now had been from 22.00-6.00. Elsewhere in Belgium, it had been from midnight-5.00. Instead of the curfew, there is now a ban on meeting up in groups of more than three, between midnight and 5.00.

Federal health minister Frank Vandenbroucke has spoken for the first time about a possible return to a near-normal way of life this autumn. He told Bel RTL: "I hope that during the next consultative committee, next Tuesday, we will be able to outline a plan to return to normal life, gradually, step by step, from here to, let's say, around September-October." But he added: Obviously, the fight against the virus is not yet won. Vaccination is progressing but the virus is still there. If we want to have a good summer, if we want to reopen normal life step by step, we must still be very careful in the coming weeks." Vandenbroucke has also urged people not to "ruin the summer" by taking too many risks now. "We are in a risky period," he said. "The vaccination campaign has not reached the point where we are protected."

According to Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon, it will be possible from 9 June to organise a garden party with up to 50 people in your home. Until now, the rules suggested that such an event could only be organised if a professional caterer was in charge. "Caterer or not caterer, it doesn't matter," Jambon said. "The protocol that applies today to terraces will also apply to events in gardens. This means, among other things, four people per table and sufficient distance between the tables." CD&V party president Joachim Coens said there was a lack of clarity in how the measures have been communicated. Virologist Erika Vlieghe is also not impressed by Jambon's announcement: "I really wonder how such a garden party with 50 people will work. It seems like every day a new measure is announced. An outdoor bubble of 10 people shouldn't suddenly turn into groups of 50 people."

Liège has lifted the access restrictions for the city's parks that have been in force since March. Stewards were counting visitor numbers at La Boverie and the Botanical Garden, after several large gatherings, and had banned access outright in the evening.

Schools

All secondary school pupils in Belgium have returned to 100% face-to-face learning, after six months spending some class time at home. Schools have received new instructions to ensure proper ventilation of buildings. Windows should be left open and gym classes should be given outdoors where possible.

Francophone education minister Caroline Désir is hopeful that schools can resume as normal in September without any need for masks. The plan is to return to class under "code green", meaning all extra-curricular activities and parents' meetings can go ahead as before. "Although masks would no longer be compulsory, the instructions for ventilation of the premises and hand washing will however still apply," Désir said. A final decision will be made on 20 August, based on the latest figures and the potential spread of more contagious variants over the summer holidays.

Foreign travel

Thalys will double the number of trains it runs from mid-May, with six return journeys to Paris each day, three to Amsterdam and one to Germany. From 21 May, the low-cost Izy service to Paris will also resume. However, this still represents just 30% of Thalys's pre-coronavirus capacity.

Belgium's Covid certificate system has launched. The Covidsafe app is available for iPhone and Android via www.covidsafe.be and connects with the ItsMe digital login system. The app allows users to display proof of vaccination, or a negative test result. A paper copy can also be downloaded via your personal account at masante.belgium.be. More than 650,000 people have requested a Belgian Covid certificate and the Covidsafe app has been downloaded more than 400,000 times.

Large queues formed outside the Royal Air Maroc ticket booking office in Brussels after the Moroccan King Mohammed VI instructed the national airline to cut prices to facilitate the return of Moroccans living abroad.

With the summer travel season fast approaching, it might be tempting to book a "free" coronavirus test by claiming you are symptomatic, instead of having to pay for a pre-travel test. This is a false economy, RTBF reports. One test centre manager told the broadcaster: "There are people who will try to pass themselves off as symptomatic so that social security covers the cost. They ask for the certificate in English - that's when we suspect it's not for their GP. If you take a test because you have symptoms or have been in contact with an infected person, the paper you will receive is not the same as for travelling. The certificate is also not the same for each country. If you take a test claiming to be symptomatic, the document will have missing information and you could risk being turned away at the airport." From 1 July, Belgian residents who are not yet fully vaccinated are entitled to two free PCR tests before travelling abroad.

Belgium's Covid certificate scheme will launch no earlier than 17 June. Residents who have been vaccinated will be able to download a certificate from www.covidsafe.be or display a QR code on their mobile screen via an app. This will make it possible for Belgian residents to cross borders within the European Union. "We are technically ready," a spokeswoman said, "but we still have to set up the helpdesks, the information campaign and have the necessary legal basis for the processing of data".

Malta and Iceland have been added to the Belgian foreign ministry's "green" list of countries. The traffic-light system is updated every Sunday based on the latest coronavirus data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Most EU member states remain red, with the exception of a few regions. Most countries outside the European Union and the Schengen zone are also red, with the exception of Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore and South Korea (green), and Thailand (orange).

Hospitals

Cleaners at several hospitals around the country walked out of work for a few minutes on Tuesday to demonstrate for the right to the coronavirus bonus for which other hospital staff are eligible. The government decided at the end of last year to grant a €985 bonus to hospital workers. But cleaning staff are not employed directly by hospitals, but private companies that are subcontracted. "To refuse us this bonus is to deny our efforts and our importance," unions said in a statement.

Work inspectors carried out surprise spot checks at six hospitals around Belgium in a single day to check the working hours of assistant nurses. Their contracts specify a 38 to 48-hour week, with occasional peaks of up to 60 allowed. In reality, they can work up to 90 hours per week. A spokesperson said: "This is the first time in Belgium that the labour auditors have joined forces to simultaneously carry out an operation of such magnitude."

Nurses at Erasmus hospital in Anderlecht have walked out on strike in protest against changes to their work status. A minimum level of service will be guaranteed. From 1 July, the concept of a "specialised nurse" will no longer be recognised. Unions say this will lead to pay cuts for many, and will make some jobs less attractive to newcomers. Jérôme Tack, who chairs the Association of Intensive Care Nurses, said: "All international studies show that the more nurses are specialised, and the more years of study they do, the more we can decrease hospital mortality. These decisions are really against patient safety."

Work

From 9 June, the requirement to work from home will be eased. It will be possible for staff to return to their workplace for one day a week, provided there is always no more than 20% of staff present on the work floor at any given time. From 1 July, remote working will become "recommended" instead of compulsory. 

A study of 4,660 people by Antwerp Management School and UGent has found a third of employees feel less attached to the company they work for, since the coronavirus crisis hit, and no longer "part of the same family". Attitudes to remote working are also changing, according to the study. At the start of the crisis, two-thirds of respondents said working from home had a positive effect on their work-life balance. That has now fallen to just one in two.

Belgium will double the income threshold allowed for some seasonal jobs this summer to attract more candidates. Youth and sports camps are desperately seeking coaches and monitors, as they are expecting strong demand from families to entertain children over the summer holidays - and activities have to be organised in smaller groups than normal because of the coronavirus restrictions. Health and social affairs minister Frank Vandenbroucke said summer camp staff would be allowed to earn up to €1,065 gross per month in July, August and September - up from €532.50 - without having to pay social security contributions. They can work for 50 days over the summer, instead of the previous 25-day limit.

Employees who have been offered "coronavirus consumption vouchers" by their employer can redeem them until 31 December, after the expiry date was extended. The vouchers - an additional tax-efficient perk for employees and a way of incentivising people to support local retailers - can be used in 15,000 restaurants and independent stores nationwide. More than 530,000 workers have received them - at a cost of €102 million - but so far only 30% of them have been redeemed. They had initially been due to expire in June.

Major events

From 1 July, if at least 60% of over-18s have received at least their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, indoor events will be allowed with up to 2,000 people - and up to 2,500 outdoors.

The Wallonia-Brussels Federation will carry out the final two of six test events later this month to assess how safely major cultural events can be staged. Almost 400 people will attend a screening at Palace cinema in Brussels, with masks but without keeping a minimum distance. And 750 people will watch a hip-hop concert at Le Manège in Mons, again without social distancing. "The first results of the test events are encouraging," said culture minister Bénédicte Linard. "Our goal remains unchanged: to produce scientific proof that access to culture can be safely maintained."

The 41st edition of the Brussels 20km has been confirmed for Sunday 12 September. Traditionally held on the last Sunday in May, the event was postponed last year - and again this year - due to the pandemic. The deadline for finishing the race will be extended from four to six hours, to allow more walkers to take part. Registrations open on 1 July.

The preliminary results from KVS theatre's indoor "test events" earlier this month are in. Air quality measurements point to a low risk of infection in the theatre, provided the venue is well ventilated and the spectators respect the rules on distancing and masks. KVS director Michael De Cock said: "The results are encouraging and reinforce our conviction that cultural events be organised safely." The tests were carried out in a venue at half-capacity. The next step will be to repeat the test with a full house.

From 30 July, if 70% of over-18s are vaccinated, large-scale cultural and music events would be allowed again. The audience limits for events would be lifted to 3,000 indoors and 5,000 outdoors. Participants will be required to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test.

With the Euro 2020 football tournament kicking off next week, interior minister Annelies Verlinden has published a set of rules for anyone organising a public screening of the matches. Events should as far as possible be organised outdoors and spectators should preferably book a place in advance. Screens on cafe terraces should be arranged so that passers-by cannot congregate to watch the match. Screenings are limited to 400 spectators outdoors and 200 indoors. If a venue serves food or drink, spectators must remain seated. Only if there is no catering can participants stay standing up, in groups of no more than four. Bar service remains banned and noise levels cannot exceed 80 decibels. The rules are valid until the end of June, when further relaxations might be allowed.

Meanwhile, Francophone broadcaster RTBF has decided to waive the fee it normally charges cafes and other venues to screen matches during the tournament. The fee would have been €181 per day for venues with a capacity under 300, and €302 for bigger venues, regardless of how many people were actually present.

The Ommegang festivities, normally held around the Grand-Place in July, have been cancelled for a second year running. "Our top priority remains the health of our spectators and our participants," organisers said. "Unfortunately, compliance with health protocols is too complex to put in place for a show such as ours which takes place in a city centre." Some 1,400 people usually take part in the performances, and thousands more are in the audience. A virtual Ommegang will be streamed on social media and it is hoped that the 2022 edition can go ahead as normal, from 29 June to 2 July.

Outdoor cultural activities can have up to 400 people in the audience, with masks. Youth summer camps are allowed, with groups of up to 50 people. Weddings and funerals can have up to 100 participants (indoors) or 200 outdoors. Receptions following the ceremony are limited to 50 people. Restaurants and cafes will also be allowed to serve customers indoors from 9 June, still with a maximum of four people at a table (unless a big family is dining together). Opening hours indoors will be 8.00-22.00. Outdoor terraces can stay open until 23.30.

Culture

Cultural venues including cinemas and theatres have been allowed to reopen with a maximum audience of 200, wearing masks, and a requirement to remain seated during the performance.

Policing

Since local police were given the power in April to check residents are respecting testing and quarantine obligations, some 1,371 reports have been drawn up. About 60% of the cases relate to people not filling in the passenger locator form. Some 277 people were found to be travelling without valid proof of a negative coronavirus test and 82 were in breach of quarantine rules. Local police receive a list of residents who do not show up for their compulsory test on return from a foreign country.

From March to December 2020, prosecutors handled 126,466 cases of breaches of the coronavirus restrictions. This accounted for 20% of their workload, La Dernière Heure reports. So far, 57.4% of fines issued have been paid in full. Some 2,748 people have been granted a debt repayment plan to spread out the cost of their fine over an agreed time.

The Belgian state has won some extra time to ensure the legality of its coronavirus restrictions, after a Brussels appeals court ruled that the daily penalties for non-compliance handed down in an initial court ruling do not have to be paid yet. The League of Human Rights had taken Belgium to court, claiming the use of ministerial decrees to impose coronavirus measures, without parliamentary scrutiny, was illegal. In this latest ruling, the appeals court did not recognise the illegality of the Covid measures and considered that the question of whether the laws being used to justify the measures were constitutional was a matter for Belgium's Constitutional Court to decide. Until then, financial penalties do not apply. Meanwhile, Belgium's pandemic law is following its course through parliament and will be voted on shortly.

A participant in the first edition of "La Boum" in the Bois de la Cambre has been sentenced to 200 hours of community service and ordered to pay €13,000 in damages for assaulting two federal police officers. The 23-year-old man injured the officers with glass bottles at the event on 1 April, when up to 2,000 people gathered in the woods for a party, in breach of the coronavirus rules.

Police seized a sound system in the Bois de la Cambre that L'Abîme collective had planned to use to stage "La Boum 3". A few minutes after the event's announced start time of 16.00, police intervened to switch the music off. A police spokeswoman said there were no reports of illegal partying on Saturday within the Brussels-Ixelles police zone.

A 50-year-old man was arrested last week on suspicion of making threats to the virologist Marc Van Ranst. He was stopped police at Brasschaat cemetery, where he was visiting his mother's grave. Searches carried out at his home, and recent comments on his social media profiles, suggest he has far-right leanings.

Van Ranst and his family remain in a safehouse under police protection. "Considering the circumstances, things are going well," he said. "We are well protected. It's also a little annoying - we cannot go outside, we cannot go where we want. But there are windows, yes, and they're bringing us meals." The virologist has spent the past few weeks joining some of the public discussion groups where comments about him are being made. "I wanted to see why," he said. "I'm not there anonymously. There are some idiots out there, who write three words with five mistakes."

Police have identified two of the four suspects they were seeking in connection with the riots that followed the first edition of "La Boum" in the Bois de la Cambre on 1 April. They are suspected of injuring police officers and damaging police cars.

Financial support

The federal government has agreed to extend a range of financial support measures for people affected by the coronavirus shutdown until 30 September. These include temporary unemployment and the double "droit passerelle" for self-employed people in sectors that still cannot reopen.

The Brussels government has released an additional €15 million in financial support for contact professions and non-essential shops that were required to close in April. The funding amounts to €3,000 per hairdressers and beauty salons, and €1,500 for non-essential stores.

At the end of 2020, almost 350,000 people in Belgium depended on some form of financial assistance from their local CPAS. That's an increase of 60,000 in a year, showing how the coronavirus crisis has pushed more people into financial precarity. The number of people relying on food aid grew by 68% and users of the CPAS's debt mediation service grew by 27%.

People suffering from "long Covid" will receive full financial protection from Belgium's health insurance system, health minister Frank Vandenbroucke has pledged. At least 10% of coronavirus patients experience long-term symptoms more than three months after infection, including extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, confusion, trouble concentrating and muscle pain. "Their health issues have an impact on their family, their work, their business," Vandenbroucke said. "It's still underestimated." Ongoing medical bills for treatment will be capped.

Weddings

The federal crisis centre has clarified the rules on wedding receptions, confirming that dancing is not allowed until at least September. Music can be played, but the sound level must not exceed 80 decibels. "If it is not possible to dance in cafes, then it is not possible to do it at weddings," a spokesman said.

Working

The five-star Steigenberger Wiltcher's Hotel on Avenue Louise is planning to make 85 of its 180 staff redundant. "The pandemic has abruptly halted the efforts undertaken for several years to improve the economic situation of the hotel," management said in a statement. Job losses are likely in cleaning and maintenance, catering and administration. A consultation with staff and unions is under way.

What have we learnt about the virus recently?

In 2020, some 124,000 years of life were lost due to coronavirus, according to new calculations by Belgium's federal planning bureau. The figure was reached by calculating excess mortality - the number of deaths above the number that would normally be expected in a year - which amounts to 16,000. Researchers then looked at the average age of the deceased, compared with a typical Belgian life expectancy.

Being overweight is a major risk factor leading to hospital admissions with coronavirus, according to new analysis of patient data by Sciensano from 7,662 positive test results. Since mid-February, half of patients admitted to hospital are under the age of 56. "What is evident is that being overweight is an increased factor," said interfederal spokesman Yves Van Laethem. "Obesity plays an important role, especially in people in their 20s and 30s."

After months of wearing facemasks outdoors, interfederal spokesman Yves Van Laethem has confirmed what we suspected: there is no reason to wear one outside when there are few people around, unless you having a close face-to-face conversation with someone. Brussels' outdoor mask requirement is lifted this Wednesday. In enclosed places, such as public transport and shops, it remains compulsory.

Written by The Bulletin