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

15:48 27/11/2020

What's the situation like at the moment?

Belgium has now recorded more than half a million confirmed cases of coronavirus. Among those, 22.4% of people still show symptoms - such as general fatigue, shortness of breath and joint pain - as long as two months after they were first infected, according to the University of Antwerp's latest coronavirus survey of 25,000 people. Two-thirds of respondents said they knew someone in their immediate circle who had had a severe form of Covid-19. About one in six people knew someone who had died with coronavirus.

Belgium is no longer the European country with the highest number of per-capita coronavirus cases. We're now third, with 1,333 cases per 100,000, with Luxembourg second and the Czech Republic first.

Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo has praised "the change in behaviour of 11 million Belgians" but said it was too early to say that the second coronavirus peak had been reached. "We are in a marathon and we have to prepare for long-term measures," he said, adding: "It is clear that the end-of-year celebrations will have to be done in a different way."

Belgium has put on hold plans to create a "coronavirus barometer", with differing levels which would determine which sectors can reopen and when. The colour-coded barometer had been several weeks in the making, but health minister Frank Vandenbroucke said: "We are going to have to thoroughly review the idea of a barometer. This is not the tool we need today. It must be thoroughly rethought."

The coronavirus restrictions will be eased differently this time than during the first wave, according to Belgium's Covid commissioner Pedro Facon, who is already working on the preparations for the second coronavirus "exit strategy", similar to that implemented in May and June. The reopening will be much more phased, sector-by-sector, and spread out over a longer period of time. Facon said: "The strategy will have to be phased, balanced and conditioned. It will be necessary to define which sectors will be able to relax their rules first."

Cafes, restaurants, cultural venues, theme parks and businesses requiring close physical contact with customers - such as hairdressers, beauty salons and massage parlours - will remain closed until the measures are reassessed in mid-January, so a pre-Christmas haircut is sadly off-limits.

Christmas

Belgium's interior and health ministers have penned a letter to Saint Nicholas, granting him a waiver so that he can still carry out his job in the early hours of 6 December. Arriving by boat from Spain, a red zone, Saint Nicholas would normally be expected to quarantine - not least since he belongs to an at-risk group of the population due to his age. He has also been exempted from Belgium's late-night curfew. "However, we recommend that you always keep your distance and wash your hands regularly. We want to be sure that you are not at risk when you visit Belgium," ministers Frank Vandenbroucke and Annelies Verlinden wrote.

There will be no Christmas relaxation to the rule on close social contacts. You can still only invite one person to your home - always the same person. This close contact is someone with whom you do not have to respect a 1.5-metre distance or wear a mask. If you live alone, you can invite two people to your home at the same time on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

A sizeable chunk of the population say they plan to flout the rules on social contacts at Christmas. The University of Antwerp poll found a third of respondents considered it "unlikely" that they will respect any limits on close contacts over the festive period. 86% of the 26,000 people polled said they would spend Saint-Nicholas with just their close family, compared to 75% on New Year's Eve and 68% at Christmas itself.

Seeing people

Your household can have "close" contact with a maximum of one person. "Close" contact means someone you kiss or hug, with whom you do not keep a 1.5-metre distance and do not wear a mask.

Your household can invite just this one person to visit. Outdoor gatherings are limited to four people outside your household, wearing a mask and respecting safe distancing. Children under 12 do not count towards the total.

A curfew is in place between midnight and 5.00 in the morning in Flanders, and from 22.00 until 6.00 in Wallonia and Brussels. You should stay home during these hours, except for essential outings such as going to work or a medical need. The late-night curfew from 22.00 to 6.00 in Brussels and Wallonia has been extended until at least 13 December. A decision could be taken to relax the curfew on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, bringing it into line with the Flemish curfew from midnight to 5.00, but this has yet to be confirmed. The sale and letting off of fireworks is prohibited.

While there is no formal ban on non-essential travel around Belgium, crisis centre spokesman Antoine Iseux has warned: "It is too early to embark on excursions to tourist hotspots." He said: "We are not yet rid of the coronavirus. But for the first time in a long time, there is an improvement. It's normal to want to go out for some fresh air. But a word of advice: don't venture too far from home. Discover your own surroundings, on foot, by bike, and avoid crowded places."

Public events

Faced with uncertainty around coronavirus, the organisers of the Brussels Motor Show have announced that the 2021 edition is cancelled. The event hopes to be back in January 2022. The fair attracts nearly half a million visitors each year.

Christmas markets in Belgium are cancelled - but the City of Brussels has not ruled out organising a 2020 edition of Winter Wonders, albeit in a different form. Brussels Major Events, the fair's organiser, is looking at how to implement a Covid-safe version of the popular festive attraction.

The 2021 edition of the Batibouw construction and renovation fair will become a virtual event due to the coronavirus crisis, organisers have announced. The fair is normally held at Brussels Expo in late February/early March. "The current context makes it impossible to hold a show, in particular the size of that of Batibouw, on a face-to-face basis," the organisers said. Another major 2021 event at Brussels Expo, January's Motor Show, has been cancelled.

With nightclubs closed and no big parties or wedding receptions, champagne in Belgium has never been cheaper. It's common to find €10 bottles in some supermarkets, and some producers are selling at a loss to clear stock. Half of all champagne sales in Belgium are made in December. Rohan Jordan, the wine purchasing manager at Colruyt, said: "It is clearly the right time to stock up a bit. The champagne market has been complicated since the start of Covid, since it is the festive product par excellence."

Sport

All professional sports matches must be played without spectators. This applies to all professional sport, both indoor and outdoor. Sports clubs and gyms are closed. All amateur sports fixtures for over-12s are cancelled nationwide. Swimming pools can reopen from 1 December.

Culture and museums

Theatres, cinemas and cultural centres are closed throughout Belgium. Museums can reopen from 1 December.

Cultural venues and organisations in Brussels can apply for a second round of emergency funding from the Brussels region. A new grant of €2,000 is available. In the first round, 246 organisations benefited. Organisations that did not apply the first time round can put in an application now and receive the full €4,000.

Bozar has decided to cancel all of its activities until the end of the year "out of respect for the efforts made by medical staff. It seems very important to us to stick together for the good of public health."

The Ancienne Belgique has cancelled all events until the end of the year. General manager Tom Bonte said the "painful" decision was taken "after careful consideration. Now more than ever, AB believes that it must contribute to the effort to decongest hospitals." AB is now looking forward to 2021 and believes "music could play an important role after the crisis". Ticket-holders for cancelled concerts will be contacted.

Hospitals

All Belgian hospitals have moved to phase 2B of their coronavirus preparations. This means 500 additional intensive care beds must be set aside for Covid-19 patients, as well as 300 additional beds on ordinary wards.

Since 1 October, 900 coronavirus patients have been transferred to another hospital because of a shortage of available beds or staff. East Flanders has received the most patients from other parts of Belgium - 181 in total. Some 23 patients were transferred from Belgian hospitals to Germany for treatment.

Hospital staff will be paid a €985 thank-you bonus for their work during the second wave of the coronavirus crisis, health minister Frank Vandenbroucke has announced. All full-time staff, working between September and November, will receive the cash before the end of the year. "All these men and women in our hospitals deserve this incentive for the exceptional efforts they have made," Vandenbroucke said. Trade union Setca said it was "a first step towards recognition of the work done" but that "the fight is far from over".

The Brussels government has approved a one-off €985 grant for workers in the aid and care sector - the same as that already given to hospital staff. It applies to 17,000 employees, including temps and students.

Frontline medical personnel who work overtime in the fight against coronavirus have their extra earnings taxed at 70%. One nurse in a large Brussels hospital told RTBF: "I feel this as a real contempt on the part of the authorities. Yes, we are lucky to still have a paid job. But at the very least, they could offer a tax exemption on overtime. It would really be an additional incentive to get absent staff back to work as soon as possible." A similar measure applied between April and June, in critical jobs, up to a maximum of 120 hours overtime.

Healthcare workers who test positive for coronavirus but are asymptomatic may be asked to continue working "in very exceptional cases", public health institute Sciensano said this week, and only if all other options have already been exhausted. Covid-positive staff can only be deployed on coronavirus wards, to ensure basic care needs are maintained. The measure does not apply to cleaning and cooking staff.

Several hospitals in Belgium have begun postponing non-essential consultations and treatments to free up staff to deal with coronavirus admissions. The Antwerp hospital groups Ziekenhuis Netwerk Antwerpen (ZNA) and Gasthuiszusters Antwerpen (GZA) are cancelling or postponing several operations. UZ Leuven has done the same, as it deals with an increased number of coronavirus patients from Brussels. Liège university hospital has cancelled a third of non-emergency admissions.

The Cliniques de l'Europe and Chirec hospital groups have cancelled all non-essential surgical procedures. The use of operating theatres has been reduced to a minimum so that personnel can be deployed to Covid-19 units. At Delta hospital, only six of the 25 operating theatres are still in use each day. "Only urgent operations which cannot be postponed are carried out," said medical director general Philippe El Haddad. "Consultations will continue. If a rapid intervention is necessary, we can carry it out."

Brussels social protection organisation Iriscare has received more than 300 applications from trained medical personnel to volunteer in the region's rest homes and hospitals. The organisation put out an appeal for anyone with medical qualifications in August. In the past week, interest from potential volunteers has spiked.

Speaking at the ULB lab's annual symposium, epidemiologist Marius Gilbert warned that within 14 days, coronavirus hospital occupancy could reach the same level seen back in March and early April. In some provinces, notably Hainaut and Liège, we are less than a week away from the peak seen during the first wave. While hospitals are better prepared than in the first wave, emergency healthcare services will still come under significant pressure in the weeks to come. A Liège CHU unversity hospital spokesman said: "Regarding Covid beds, we are at the same level of as in March-April." The hospital will, from Monday, turn some of its surgery wards into temporary Covid units. Some patients are having to be transferred to other hospitals within the province.

Residents in parts of Watermael-Boitsfort have resumed the nightly 20.00 clap for healthcare workers which was a common sight throughout Belgium during the first coronavirus wave.

The Belgian military has up to 1,500 personnel ready to lend a hand in the fight against the second wave of coronavirus, the defence ministry said. Support will include medical transport, logistics and the secondment of medics, paramedics and ambulance drivers. Other military personnel could be drafted in to help at coronavirus testing centres. Queen Astrid military hospital in Neder-Over-Heembeek, which specialises in burns victims, is accepting burns patients from other Belgian hospitals to ease the strain on their revsources.

The central square in Cinquantenaire park has been transformed into an ambulance disinfecting station, manned by military personnel. It is the third of its kind in the Brussels region after Anderlecht and the central fire station near Maximilian park. After each Covid patient transfer to hospital, vehicles must be disinfected inside and out. This can take up to an hour and a half.

Coronavirus testing

Belgium has begun testing asymptomatic people again, as test capacity has improved. Interfederal spokesman Yves Van Laethem said the test was best done seven days after coming into contact with an infected person, or returning from a red zone. The other good news: from next Monday, you will no longer need to go via your GP to get a coronavirus test prescription. Just head to Masante.be site and make an appointment at a test centre. On the site, you can also download a quarantine certificate for your employer. If the result comes back negative, you can end your quarantine.

The Brussels region has placed an order for 100,000 rapid coronavirus antigen tests, which aim to relieve some of the pressure on labs. The tests are primarily intended for nursing homes, in order to continue with preventative screening. "This is a first order, others will follow in the coming weeks," said Brussels health minister Alain Maron.

Brussels has a seventh coronavirus testing facility - at Bizet in Anderlecht. The new centre opened on Monday and can accommodate 1,200 people per day, bringing the Brussels region's daily testing capacity to 9,000. It is open daily from 9.00 until 16.00 (14.00 at weekends) by appointment.

Several biostatisticians and immunologists from UHasselt, UAntwerpen and VUB believe that it could be possible to test the entire Belgian population every week after the second wave of the epidemic, by performing group tests. Researchêr Pieter Libin says pooling and analysing samples from 32 people at the same time would allow mass PCR testing. In the event of a positive "pool", individual tests would follow. For this strategy to work, the number of infections in the population must drop to 500 active cases at the same time.

The Belgian Pharmaceutical Association says pharmacists in Belgium are willing and ready to offer quick-turnaround coronavirus tests to the public - but the legal framework for doing so has yet to be finalised. The antigen tests, using a nasal swab, could offer results within 30 minutes. "We are targeting patients with little or no symptoms," the association said. "We know that these people represent a large part of the people who are infected. They do not know it but they infect others. So it could be interesting to be able to allow them to have better access to a much faster test. These tests are much cheaper, they are a little less reliable. But the point is to be able to test a lot more people."

Less than half of people tested for coronavirus receive their result within the recommended limit of 24 hours, according to new stats compiled by federal authorities. Since the beginning of October, every lab in Belgium has been obliged to provide data on how quickly coronavirus test results are supplied. On 14 October, the last date reported, 35,000 people had to wait longer than 24 hours - that's half the number of tests carried out on that day. The situation is worsening each day: on 1 October, 65% of people received their result on time.

Two new coronavirus testing centres opened in Brussels recently - on Rue de l'Athénée Royal in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert and at Crossing football stadium in Schaerbeek. They are only accessible by prior appointment, for people with symptoms and with a prescription or QR code for a Covid test.

The Belgian state has settled its €6.5 million debt to Liège-based firm Zentech, after the government terminated a contract to supply 3.65 million coronavirus antibody tests. In September, the courts ordered Belgium to pay a fine of €10,000 per day for failing to fulfil its deal with the supplier.

Liège university hospital's drive-in coronavirus screening centre has reopened. It closed last Thursday in order to clear a backlog of samples. CHU Liège said the testing facility would now be limited to people who are showing symptoms. Coronavirus tests for travellers planning to go on holiday will no longer be carried out there.

A new mobile coronavirus testing facility has opened on the former Caterpillar site in Gosselies, Charleroi. Up to 150 tests can be performed daily, from 10.00-13.00 and 17.00-19.00. The aim is to relieve overcrowding in other testing centres in the region.

Brussels is currently carrying out 49,000 coronavirus tests per week. The aim is to reach 63,000 per week by the end of November, with the opening of new testing centres in Anderlecht, Schaerbeek and Molenbeek. Extra staff are also being hired in contact-tracing call centres.

A new coronavirus testing facility is set to open in Auderghem. It will be in the former police station, part of the town hall building. The test centre will have its own separate entrance, on Rue Emile Idiers, to avoid visitors mixing with town hall staff. A prescription and a booking are essential via www.auderghem.be/testing

The coronavirus testing facility in Brussels Airport is struggling to keep up with demand, with frustrated passengers facing long waits for the result they need before they are allowed to travel. It is, in theory, possible to take a fast-track test, costing €135, but several people have reported still having to wait several days. One Pakistani national, who paid for rapid tests for all six members of his family, told RTBF: "We came for the test on Thursday so we could get on the plane on Friday. I stayed here Friday all day. I came again on Saturday. I was told that they would send me an email. On Sunday I was told there was still a delay." He was forced to rearrange his flight times, at substantial extra cost, and will have to take the test again so that the result is still valid at the time of boarding. An airport spokeswoman said: "Unfortunately, given the current situation, the results are taking a little longer to arrive. We are working on a solution to be able to resolve this problem on as quickly as possible. Take into account a delay of 12 to 24 additional hours to obtain the results."

All of Brussels' coronavirus testing centres require you to book an appointment in advance. "Until now, most people who go to a testing centre have not registered beforehand," a spokeperson said. "This phenomenon generates a considerable overload of administrative work for the staff, who already have a busy schedule in view of the current situation." If you are showing symptoms and need a test, register at http://brussels.testcovid.be with your national register number and the code on the prescription from your doctor.

Work

Remote working is compulsory except for essential jobs that cannot be done from home. Workplace inspectors will carry out spot checks to see how many people are present, and to ensure that distancing rules are respected for those who still work on-site.

Employees who still have to be physically present at work will need to ask their company for an official document, De Tijd reports. Spot checks are planned - and inspectors may ask to see "documentary evidence confirming the necessity to be present at the workplace".

Four in 10 Belgian workers cannot do their jobs from home, according to a new survey of 2,000 people by HR services company Acerta. Two years ago the figure was closer to six in 10. The study found the majority of remote workers found two to three days at home each week to be the right for them. Those who worked from home fewer than two days per week generally said they would like to be at home more.

Workplace inspectors have carried out more than 17,500 spot checks on businesses since late March - and found more than half (8,170) of them were breaching coronavirus measures in some form or other. "The breaches were sometimes minor and could be quickly corrected," said federal labour minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne. Failure to observe the minimum 1.5-metre distance is the most common violation, followed by insufficient cleaning of common areas. Fun fact: electric hand dryers are not allowed in the workplace, as the force of the air can contribute to the spread of the virus.

Self-employed workers whose income has disappeared because of the coronavirus restrictions can claim extra compensation until the end of the year. The "droit passerelle" monthly payout has been doubled, as part of a €500 million emergency funding initiative announced last week. For a single person, the monthly amount increases from €1,291 to €2,583. A self-employed worker with dependent family will receive €3,228 - up from €1,614. The measure primarily applies to people who work in shut-down business sectors such as restaurants, bars, nightclubs, fairgrounds and culture.

A ministerial committee has approved 38 measures to ease the financial burden on businesses and the self-employed during the coronavirus crisis. They include the possibility of delaying tax payments, the extension of several tax breaks for businesses and the reopening of temporary unemployment due to force majeure for all companies. The "droit passerelle" monthly compensation package has been doubled for self-employed workers whose professional sector has been forced to close. Social charges payments can also be deferred, with the introduction of a debt repayment plan. The temporary posting of employees from shut-down businesses to jobs in the care sector will also be facilitated.

With most of its staff working from home, the European Commission has suspended its catering service until at least September 2021. L'Echo newspaper reports that 400 jobs are threatened at the Commission's various canteens. A further 1,000 are at risk if the European Parliament chooses to follow suit.

Eating/drinking

Restaurants, cafes and bars are closed. The measure came into force on 19 October. Takeaways are still possible. The sale of alcohol is prohibited after 20.00, and the consumption of alcohol in public is banned 24/7 throughout Belgium.

A team of 40 inspectors from the federal health ministry will carry out spot checks on shops, takeaways, hairdressers and beauty salons from next week to check that all the relevant coronavirus rules are being followed. The inspectors have the same powers as police to issue fines.

The Brussels region will pay a €3,000 grant to all cafes and restaurants required to close for the next month due to the latest coronavirus measures announced by the federal government. The region hopes to make the payments by the end of November. Nightclubs, travel agencies and events companies in Brussels are due to receive a one-off €9,000 grant at the end of October.

Belgium's Council of State has rejected an urgent legal appeal by the hospitality and catering industry against the closure of cafes and restaurants.

Brewing giant AB Inbev will continue to charge rent to its pub tenants, unlike during the first coronavirus shutdown in the spring. A spokeswoman said the firm would look at debt repayment plans to allow tenants to spread out their rent payments. Draught beer that has gone off during the shutdown will be replaced free of charge when cafes are allowed to reopen.

Shopping

Non-essential shops, which have only been allowed to offer click-and-collect since 2 November, can reopen on Tuesday, in time for the busy Christmas shopping season, with strict limits of one customer per 10m² of retail space. The smallest stores, measuring less than 20m², can accept no more than two customers at any time. Large stores must have a security guard at the entrance, counting people in and out.

Shopping must still be done alone, unless accompanying a vulnerable person or children, with a maximum 30 minutes per store. Transactions that require longer than 30 minutes, such as ordering a new kitchen, must be done by appointment.

All shops in the Brussels region must close by 20.00 - except takeaways which can stay open until 22.00. The requirement to go shopping alone has been reintroduced, unless accompanying a child or a vulnerable person in need of assistance. Shops are required to limit access to one customer per 10m² of retail space.

Trade unions representing retail workers have called on supermarkets to make the use of shopping trolleys compulsory again - to help customers keep a safe distance from each other. The unions also want stores to disinfect each trolley after use, since "it is clear that customers no longer systematically do so".

Lockdown has forced many Flemish shops to start selling online, but few of them see a future in e-commerce, according to a study from Antwerp University. Instead, local retailers consider web shops a temporary measure to get them through the crisis. According to the university’s survey, around 50% of retailers who did not already have an online shop opened one during the first lockdown. On average, this allowed them to keep 20% of their turnover. It helped that the public started shopping online in much larger numbers, both for food and other items. And many people chose to shop locally, rather than turning to big international platforms such as Coolblue, Bol.com and Amazon. Yet many Flemish shops that went online during lockdown appear to have made it up as they went along. For example, only a quarter of those surveyed got professional help when setting up their web shops.

The City of Brussels is set to launch a "consumer voucher" scheme to help boost local shops. The vouchers will be sold in increments of €25 - but their value will be 20% higher, so they can be used to pay for €30 of shopping, with the city paying the difference to the retailer. Traders interested in taking part will be able to register at www.commercelocal.brussels. Exact details of how to buy your vouchers will come in a communication campaign shortly.

The National Labour Council has asked the federal government to extend the validity of meal vouchers, ecocheques and other extra-legal benefits. It wants meal vouchers expiring between November 2020 and March 2021 to be extended by six months. Sports and culture vouchers that expired on 30 September should have their validity extended by a year.

About 10 pharmacies in Belgium per week are closing due to lack of staff. About 10% of pharmacies have at least one member of staff who has tested positive for Covid-19, and 30% have at least one member of staff in quarantine. "Pharmacies are small businesses with few employees," said a spokesman for the Union of Pharmacists. "As soon as the pharmacist is absent, the structure is forced to close. There are not enough pharmacists on the market to meet demand."

A shopkeeper who refused to pay rent during the first coronavirus shutdown has won their case in court. Lawyers for the manager of a Di store in Etterbeek successfully argued that because the premises rented out by the landlord could no longer be visited by the public, "the tenant was released from his obligation to pay".

With Black Friday, Christmas and the closure of non-essential stores, Bpost staff are expecting a marathon few weeks. The firm is currently processing half a million parcels per day and has hired 2,500 seasonal workers. It's also a busy time for Point Poste relay points - typically located within convenience stores and newsagents - some of which are now making more revenue from Bpost duties than their day-to-day retail activities.

Belgium's Council of State has rejected an urgent request from the real estate industry for estate agents to be allowed to continue showing people around homes. The judgment says the estate agents and their professional union had not provided  "concrete and verifiable elements indicating that the financial and competitive damage invoked has consequences of such gravity for the survival of the company or the union that a suspension of extreme urgency is necessary".

Schools

An expert report commissioned by the Flemish education minister has recommended that both half-term holidays during the academic year be extended to two weeks, with a shorter summer holiday to compensate, to ensure longer breaks in the virus transmission chain. The Toussaint break has already been extended from nine to 12 days. The Carnival holidays in February could follow. Putting a two-week break at regular intervals through the year would ensure "schools remain open as much as possible during the rest of the year", the experts say.

Francophone education authorities will decide in December whether to extend the Carnival half-term holiday in February from one week to two, as was the case during the November break. Education minister Caroline Désir said it was "still a little early to decide now". She added: "Offering longer holidays means taking the risk of families organising longer trips abroad, which obviously increases the risk of contamination."

Belgium's French-speaking schools have seen a sharp rise in unjustified pupil absences in November, up 50% compared to the same time last year. Some 12,000 students had at least one day off school without valid reason. While authorities were lenient during the first coronavirus wave, the obligation to send children to school is being strictly applied again since September. Children are allowed nine unjustified half-days off school per academic year. Beyond 20 half-days, sanctions are possible including legal action and withdrawal of child benefits.

The return to school is under "code red". This means pupils from the third year of secondary school upwards will only be present 50% of the time, with distance learning for the rest of the time. Code red is expected to stay in place at least until 18 December, the last day before the Christmas holidays.

Four out of 10 schoolchildren in Belgium feel uncomfortable at school due to the coronavirus risk. The survey of 1,700 families found seven out of 10 secondary school pupils found wearing a mask all day unpleasant. Half of parents answering the survey was in favour of closing secondary schools. Another third preferred a mix of distance and face-to-face learning.

The Wallonia-Brussels Federation has freed up €10 million in emergency funding to buy 20,000 laptops for students who do not have access to a computer at home. Since Wednesday, secondary school classes are being given remotely. Schools have been encouraged to make the necessary purchases now - and then claim the money back from the government, which will provide funding for enough computers for 5% of students per school, at a rate of €500 per computer.

Schoolchildren at risk of falling behind in the latest lockdown because they cannot take part in lessons at home will receive new laptops from the government of Flanders. Education minister Ben Weyts announced on Monday that 15,000 new laptops would be provided to the most at-risk pupils, with 4,000 available as early as this week. The government will spend some €10 million on the new laptops, which will become the property of schools. It will be for schools to decide who receives the new equipment, and for how long. The commitment comes on top of the 12,000 second-hand laptops that the government made available during the last school year. Meanwhile, internet providers Telenet and Proximus will continue to provide free internet connections for pupils who are not connected at home, at least until the end of this school year. Families can request this internet access through the schools.

One in 25 children are living in a difficult, or potentially dangerous, family situation, which risks being exacerbated by the latest coronavirus restrictions, SOS Villages d'Enfants has warned. "Children are spending more time within their family bubble. But what if this bubble is failing and does not offer them what they need?" asks director Hilde Boeykens. "After the lockdown in March, we received messages from many families sounding the alarm. These were generally families who were already experiencing difficulties before the stay-at-home period. Some parents found themselves out of work and problems surfaced even faster than usual due to the added stress caused by the crisis. This had many consequences for children."

Universities

Universities - which all recently entered "code red", scrapping in-person lectures - must maintain 100% distance learning until at least 13 December.

Leuven university has set up its own contact-tracing call centre, to speed up reaching students who have been in contact with a person testing positive for coronavirus. A third of Leuven's residents are students and the university is offering free coronavirus tests at a rate of 300 per day. Medical students are carrying out the tests and manning the call centre.

Policing

Brussels-Ixelles police have sanctioned 13,000 people for failing to respect the coronavirus restrictions since March, new figures reveal. Some 9,891 people received judicidal fines, while another 3,346 were issued with municipal administrative fines (SACs), of which about 700 have since been annulled and only 1,000 have been paid - either in full or as part of a staggered payment plan. Police in the city centre carry out about 20 Covid patrols, day and night, tasked with sanctioning people who fail to wear a mask, gather in groups of more than four people, break the curfew or hold "lockdown parties".

Foreign travel

Foreign borders remain open, but travel is strongly discouraged. Remote working remains compulsory unless it is impossible to do so. Belgium will reinforce its border checks, to ensure people entering Belgium have filled out the Passenger Locator Form and will respect the necessary quarantine period if required.

It's time to start looking forward to summer 2021. "We could start vaccinations in the spring," said interfederal spokesman Yves Van Laethem during Monday's coronavirus press conference. "The way things currently look, if nothing changes to the timeframe for the coronavirus vaccine, and with more favourable weather conditions, we should start to find a life similar to what we had before."

Ryanair is planning to make more redundancies in Belgium than previously announced. The figure has risen from 80 in July, and 106 last month, to a new total of 200, staff and unions learned during a conference call on Monday. "Ryanair has once again shown its contempt for Belgian and European restructuring regulations," the unions say.

Travel agency Neckermann will close all 59 of its branches "until Belgians can travel again" - and has applied for bankruptcy protection for three months. The tour operator will use the period to "find financial support and renegotiate with its creditors the debts caused by the coronavirus crisis". The group hopes doing so will allow it to protect the jobs of its 180 employees. Holiday reservations will still be possible online.

The mediator for Brussels Airport has written to federal authorities to warn of crowd control issues at the Zaventem terminal and "non-compliance with health measures". Philippe Touwaide said there had been "regrettable incidents" over the past three weekends, including "chaotic Covid testing, denied boarding, delays in test results, crowds at departures, absence of masks and social distancing". He added: "We ask you to take radical measures so that all the health rules are strictly observed."

Private events

In the Brussels region, wedding ceremonies are limited to the couple and their witnesses. Funerals are limited to 15 people.

Elsewhere, up to 200 people can attend a wedding ceremony or funeral, provided safe distancing is maintained. Receptions are only allowed after a funeral, for a maximum 40 people.

The Brussels region has banned street prostitution. A ministerial decree states that the ban was implemented because "Covid-19 can be transmitted by contact, and the activity of prostitution by its very nature requires close and repeated physical contact with different people, where respect of barrier gestures is undermined. Such an activity is a great risk in the context of a pandemic." The City of Brussels had already introduced a prostitution ban in September, but it was thrown out by the Council of State on the grounds that it was not something that a local authority could decide.

Transport

Public transport use in Brussels is gradually declining, falling below the 60% capacity mark last week, according to the latest Stib figures. Only 4% of vehicles were more than half-full. 68% of vehicles were less than a quarter full. Flemish public transport operator De Lijn will carry out spot-checks from 12 November to ensure passengers are wearing a mask. Inspectors will hand out €250 to those not complying. If necessary, police will be called in for extra support.

After a sharp decline in movements during the November holidays, Belgians are starting to travel more, according to mobility data analysed by the federal crisis centre, based on mobile phone GPS records, TomTom, Google and Apple. This is explained by a return to school - and work, for some of us - but interfederal spokesman Yves Van Laethem said: "This should not continue to increase since we insist on the importance of maintaining a maximum of remote work."

Austrian railway company ÖBB is stopping its night-train service from Brussels to Vienna for at least a month from 5 November, due to the worsening coronavirus situation in Europe.

Walloon public transport operator TEC has hired 100 private coaches to follow its own buses on the busiest lines, picking up extra passengers when the bus is too busy. The measure is in place until the end of the year, and after an evaluation it could be extended to June.

Coach company FlixBus is again limiting its services due to the new coronavirus restrictions. A "very limited" number of buses will continue linking Belgium with the Netherlands and UK.

Belgian ministers have approved a financial rescue package for the nation's railways. SNCB will receive €264 million in emergency funding, with a further €46.9 million for railtrack operator Infrabel. Mobility minister Georges Gilkinet said: "It is necessary, following the Covid-19 pandemic, to avoid a deterioration in the financial situation of SNCB and Infrabel - which would call into question their ability to fulfil their public service missions."

The mayor of Ostend, Bart Tommelein, wants the SNCB to stop allowing the free Hello Belgium rail pass to be used, until Belgium's coronavirus restrictions are eased again. Up to 5,000 daytrippers visited Ostend on Wednesday, a public holiday - many of them taking advantage of the SNCB's free 12-journey rail pass. "The crowd was too large," Tommelein said. "It's not a good idea at this time to have so many people in one place. I ask people not to all come to Ostend at the same time and to avoid crowded places."

The Belgian taxi federation Febet is seeking financial support from the government after it imposed a night-time curfew from midnight to 5.00. The federation has supplied drivers with a waiver document allowing them to continue driving during the curfew hours. Febet chairman Khalid Ed-Denguir said that if the federal minister for the self-employed, David Clarnival, did not respond to the request for compensation, taxi drivers would consider a protest action on 16 November. "Our turnover has dropped by 70-80%," he said. "Yet we have been completely overlooked."

Self-employed drivers working for Taxis Verts, who refused to pay their monthly fee to the operator during the coronavirus shutdown, have reached an agreement with management. The deal gives drivers the freedom to suspend their activities at any given moment. Fees cease to be collected from the start of the following month - and drivers can choose to resume work at the start of any subsequent month. Taxi drivers have seen revenues plunge by 70% since the coronavirus crisis began.

Driving lessons and exams have been suspended. Test centres will contact candidates to arrange alternative dates. Provisional driving licences will be extended until at least 31 December. Taking your car for a roadworthiness test is still possible.

Retirement homes

Care homes in Brussels have started toughening their rules again on family visits, which are now limited to a maximum of two people per fortnight. On-site restaurants are off-limits for visitors and care homes can no longer organise excursions. In Wallonia, the limit is one visitor per fortnight.

Social care organisation Iriscare has received applciations from 800 volunteers to lend a hand in the region's care homes. The first few dozen have already been placed within nursing homes. Hospitals in the region have also been invited to request volunteer support.

Staff at 600 nursing homes in Wallonia will take a saliva test for coronavirus every 10 days, under a new fast-testing system implemented by ULiège university, which comes into force this Monday.

Vulnerable groups

About 85 people demonstrated outside the Finance Tower in Brussels to call for the federal government to give a proper legal status to undocumented migrants. "We spent the first wave in difficult conditions and we will spend the second wave the same way, without any rights or social protection," a spokesman for the protest action said. "Among us, there are graduates, nurses, technicians... They could provide important support to hospitals, which are understaffed with the epidemic."

Sex workers' union Utsopi has set up a solidarity fund to support prostitutes, who have been ordered to stop work. "Utsopi has received more requests for help in recent weeks than throughout the three months of the first stay-at-home period," said the organisation. "Sex workers can no longer pay their rent, pay their medical bills and have to resort to food handouts to feed themselves." Citizens can make a donation, which will be used to purchase food, pay for basic medical care and emergency accommodation for workers evicted from their homes.

Hotels

The Brussels government has agreed a financial aid package for the region's hotels, with grants of up to €200,000 per hotel and €800,000 maximum per company. Tourism normally generates €1.2 billion a year for the Brussels economy. The region's smallest hotels, with 18 rooms or less, will receive a flat rate €20,000. This increases by €1,100 per extra room, up to the limit.

Prisons

Across all Belgian prisons, 174 inmates have tested positive for coronavirus since 13 March - of whom 86 are currently infected. Lantin prison has set aside a special wing for asymptomatic prisoners who test positive. All new detainees are placed in preventive quarantine and are tested before mixing with other inmates. When an inmate or a member of staff tests positive for Covid-19, an internal system of contact tracing is activated in the prisons. High-risk contacts are then placed in quarantine pending their test results.

Financial support

Discussions with the banking sector are under way about allowing customers to delay their mortgage payments, as was the case during the spring shutdown. A spokesman for financial services federation Febelfin said: "We are looking at it with the authorities as in the spring. We know that it is a concern."

A ministerial committee has approved 38 measures to ease the financial burden on businesses and the self-employed during the coronavirus crisis. They include the possibility of delaying tax payments, the extension of several tax breaks for businesses and the reopening of temporary unemployment due to force majeure for all companies. The "droit passerelle" monthly compensation package has been doubled for self-employed workers whose professional sector has been forced to close. Social charges payments can also be deferred, with the introduction of a debt repayment plan. The temporary posting of employees from shut-down businesses to jobs in the care sector will also be facilitated.

The boss of KBC bank, Johan Thijs, believes the Belgian state has been too generous in its support measures for businesses and the self-employed. He believes that some businesses earned more in government aid than they would have done if they had stayed open and trading. The bank boss pleads for linking aid to losses actually suffered. "I think we need to work on more measures instead of uniform collective measures," he told De Standaard.

Brussels' secretary of state for housing, Nawal Ben Hamou, has submitted a proposal to ban tenant evictions until at least 13 December, "with the exception of evictions justified by a serious and imminent threat to public safety". She said: "Our objective is to minimize the possibilities of contamination and to protect the most precarious tenants by keeping them in their accommodation." The National Chamber of Bailiffs has asked its members to be "cautious, reasonable and accommodating". A spokesman said: "We do not want bailiffs to be vectors of the virus. When we carry out a eviction, there are a lot of people, police officers, movers. The risk is then too great."

Vaccines

Belgium is working on its coronavirus vaccination strategy, prime minister Alexander De Croo told parliament this week. A taskforce is looking at the characteristics of each vaccine currently being tested, and trying to determine which vaccine is most appropriate for each section of the population. Through the European Commission, Belgium is expecting to receive 12.9 million doses - 7.7 million from AstraZeneca (given in two doses) and 5.5 million from Johnson & Johnson.

Belgium has approved the purchase of five million doses of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine. "If this vaccine obtains a marketing authorisation, Belgium will buy it," the interministerial public health committee said. The purchase would be coordinated at EU level by the European Commission.

Belgium has approved a fourth coronavirus vaccine purchase. It will buy 2.9 million doses from German manufacturer CureVac as soon as it has received marketing approval from the European Medicines Agency. This brings the number of coronavirus vaccines ordered by Belgium to more than 20 million - 7.74 million from AstraZeneca, 5.16 million from Johnson & Johnson and five million from Pfizer. CureVac's vaccine is a bit behind the others - it will enter phase 3 clinical trials in the coming weeks and could become available in the second quarter of 2021.

Brussels Airport is busy making logistical preparations for the arrival of coronavirus vaccines on Belgian soil. It's a big challenge as the vaccines lost their effectiveness at room temperature. Some of the vaccines must be stored at -70°C. They will be transported with the help of dry ice, under constant temperature control. "This is not the first time that vaccines have been transported through Brussels Airport," said Koen Gouweloose, the managing director of Swissport. "We did it during the Ebola epidemic in Africa for example. We have experience." An airport spokeswoman said everything is ready for the massive distribution effort. All that's missing, for now, are the vaccines.

"The vaccine isn't going to solve everything," says interfederal spokesman Yves Van Laethem. "It won't make the virus go away. It will just allow us to quickly build up group immunity in society." He added: "The search for group immunity purely on a natural basis, that is to say without the aid of a vaccine is a delusion, unless one is prepared to pay a significant price in human life and in destruction of the health system." Van Laethem estimates that 60,000 people in Belgium would die if the country went for a group immunity approach without a vaccine. "We can predict that after the second wave, somewhere between 10 and 20% of the Belgian population will have coronavirus antibodies."

Infectious disease specialist Erika Vlieghe says we do not have enough information about all the potential coronavirus vaccines to determine which ones we should buy and for whom. "A vaccine may work very well for young people, but not very effective for people over 80," she says. "The strategy will therefore depend from one vaccine to another."

"It will be complicated to vaccinate eight million Belgians," says Jean Stéphenne, who chairs the German pharmaceutical company CureVac. "More so in French-speaking Belgium than in Flanders, because French-speaking people are very influenced by France which is one of the countries where opposition to vaccination is the strongest. We will have to convince on a rational basis and not give in to emotion." He believes the elderly will be relatively easy to convince, but persuading younger people will be more complicated. "It is a civic act. For a vaccine to be effective, it is necessary to achieve vaccination coverage of 60-70%."

Belgium's various health ministers have agreed on a coronavirus vaccination strategy. The vaccines, once available, will be 100% reimbursed and voluntary - but the goal is for at least 70% of the population to get vaccinated. Federal health minister Frank Vandenbroucke said: "There are people who have doubts and right now you can't make a decision because vaccines have to be validated, but if vaccines are validated by institutions independent of the industry, then people can have confidence, both with regard to the positive impact of these vaccines and with regard to safety in their use." A Covid vaccine taskforce will be set up to determine the practical details for the vaccine rollout. Belgium is part of an EU-wide vaccine procurement programme. Four contracts have already been signed at European level. After promising news from Pfizer last week, American biotech firm Moderna has announced that its own vaccine was 94.5% effective. It plans to manufacture 20 million doses by the end of December.

Mental health

The latest coronavirus study by the University of Antwerp shows Belgians are feeling down - more so than during the first wave - with students and unemployed workers in the hospitality industry among those feeling the most affected. UAntwerp researcher Philippe Beutels said: "Young people between the ages of 16 and 25 continue to struggle."

Masks

The Brussels region has reintroduced the requirement to wear a mask in all public places.

The nationwide rule is that wearing a mask is compulsory for all over-12s, in busy places, where a safe distance cannot be maintained. This includes public transport (the vehicle and while waiting at a station/stop), shopping streets (as defined by each municipality), museums, libraries, places of worship, cinemas, theatres and concert halls. The potential fine is €250.

Charleroi has made wearing a mask compulsory in all public places, and has ordered night shops and petrol station convenience stores to close at 20.00. The measures begin on Monday. The rule on masks does not apply to children under 12 or people doing sport, including cyclists.

Namur has reintroduced the requirement to wear a mask in the city centre. Masks will also be compulsory along the banks of the Meuse and Sambre.

Belgium's federal health ministry and the Anti-Poison Centre have launched an awareness campaign, after reporting a record number of cases of domestic accidents involving disinfectant gel and other cleaning products. Bad reactions to hydroalcoholic gel increased five-fold since the coronavirus outbreak began, and incidents including bleach have doubled. The high alcohol content of disinfectant gels can lead to serious intoxication, especially in children.

The latest coronavirus figures and measures can be found on the federal government’s dedicated website, in four languages.

Written by The Bulletin