Belgium extends COVID-19 lockdown by two weeks until 19 April

Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes (C) gives a press conference at the end of a national security Council o fight the epidemic of Coronavirus in Brussels, Belgium, March 2020. [EPA-EFE/BERT VAN DEN BROUCKE]

Belgium’s National Security Council (CNS) decided on Friday (27 March) to extend the coronavirus containment measures by two weeks until 19 April, after France applied the same time frame only hours earlier.

If there is no decrease in the number of hospital admissions by 19 April, the lockdown will remain in force until 3 May, the Security Council decided.

The CSN, which brings together the prime minister, deputies, ministers, representatives of the federated entities, heads of the security services and scientists, was meant to evaluate the various emergency measures taken to fight against COVID-19, as well as their duration.

“It is far too early to say that the epidemic is under control. Our efforts have only just begun. If we decrease them, the consequences could be dramatic. This is why the measures taken will be extended until 19 April and may be extended until 3 May,” Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes told reporters.

In the meantime, the CNS will convene regularly to take stock of the situation.

As of Friday (27 March), there were 7,284 cases and 289 confirmed deaths, with 1,049 new positive cases and 69 deaths in the past 24 hours.

Stricter application of measures

Contrary to previous announcements, there is no change in the measures but they will be applied more strictly.

Speaking to reporters, Wilmes repeated that citizens are required to stay at home except for essential travel such as work, going to the doctor, or buying food.

Belgium declared a lockdown for the entire country over the coronavirus crisis from 18 March until 5 April, shutting down educational institutions, restaurants, cafes and gyms, and told people to stay home apart from trips to buy food or medicine, or for exercise at a distance of 1,5 metres from each other.

Belgium enters lockdown over coronavirus crisis until 5 April

Belgium declared a lockdown for the entire country over the coronavirus crisis from noon on Wednesday (18 March) until 5 April, following the example of several European countries, including neighbouring France, which took the same decision earlier this week.

However, in the past two weeks, authorities had recorded increased violations of the measures, while critics suggested there might be still too many exemptions.

Since last week, police have been monitoring the use of the non-essential movement ban at border crossings. According to federal police data published on Friday (27 March), Belgian road police have already blocked more than 2,000 vehicles on motorways because of making non-essential journeys.

“For outdoor physical activity, the goal is to stay on the move and not sit in the parks for hours. After the activity is over, you must return home immediately. There is no question of going to the Ardennes or to the sea for the day,” Wilmes said.

“Sanctions will be applied,” she added. “A system of immediate collection of fines will be put in place.”

Wilmès condemned the so-called “lockdown parties”, because “of the many young people who were partying in cafes a fortnight ago, there are some who are today in intensive care”.

Earlier, the Belgian government had sent mixed signals about whether it would limit non-essential movement, after neighbouring France told citizens not to go more than a kilometre from home for exercise.

Interior minister Pieter De Crem (CD&V) told VTM Nieuws on Thursday (26 March) that the meeting was meant to establish further clarifications on the measures agreed under the lockdown scheme.

“People will be more monitored for non-essential movements and fines will apply,” he said, adding that there is so far no intention to apply the French-style one-kilometre scheme (1 person, 1 kilometre from home and 1 hour per day).

However, health minister Maggie De Block later contradicted him: “In fact, you can cycle as far as you want,” she said. “I think going out for a walk or a bike ride is healthy for people.”

Virologist Marc Van Ranst, speaking to VRT, said he did not think a limit on the distance covered during exercise was necessary. More important was making sure that people who venture out keep the recommended distance, he said.

Businesses and schools

“As far as businesses are concerned, teleworking is compulsory for all non-essential activities. If the social distancing rules cannot be put in place, the business must close. Checks have already taken place and will continue,” Wilmes said.

For schools, the rules remain the same. Child care will be provided in schools during the Easter holidays.

“If this is not possible, another form of daycare can be organised: children kept together must continue to be and preferably to be looked after by people with whom they have had contact recently “.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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