Belgium to exit lockdown, return to ‘new normal’

Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes (C) speaks during a press conference following a National Security Council on the COVID-19 outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium, 03 June 2020. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

Belgium is set to enter Phase 3 of deconfinement measures next week on Monday, with a reopening of hotels, bars and restaurants, extended social life and eased tourism restrictions, the National Security Council (CNS) said on Wednesday (3 June).

“This is a key phase of deconfinement that will allow us to change our approach,” Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes (MR) told reporters.

“We started by prohibiting everything – it was confinement – then the exceptions added up over time. As of 8 June, we can reason starting with our freedoms, ” she added.

With a population of 11.5 million, Belgium is one of the nations hardest hit by COVID-19, but it began phasing out lockdown measures at the beginning of May, marking out 4, 11 and 18 May, as well as 8 June, as key dates.

After reopening non-food shops last month, the country allowed schools, markets, museums and zoos to partially operate again.

As of 3 June, there are 58,685 cases, and 9,522 reported deaths in Belgium.

“New infections are still being detected in our country, but trends are declining,” Sciensano, Belgium’s national public health institute, emphasised during a press conference.

But Wilmes cautioned that “the virus remains with us, it still takes its toll and we must remain vigilant. This is why we must continue to ban certain activities.”

Here’s a brief overview of the upcoming relaxing of measures:

Social contacts

As of Monday (8 June), it is allowed to have close contact with 10 people per week, an “expanded personal bubble”, which is permitted to change from week to week.

Group activities are also limited to 10 people, children included.

“This will limit social contact and it will allow you to trace your contacts in the event of illness,” Wilmes told reporters.

Social distancing rules remain the same, except for the people of one’s social bubble.

The activities preferably take place outside, if that is not possible, the space must be sufficiently ventilated, wearing a mask is advised.

Catering industry

The Horeca sector (hotels/restaurants/cafes) can reopen again from 8 June, provided that they follow an accurate protocol (maximum 10 people at one table, distance of 1.5 meters must be respected).

Night clubs will remain closed until the end of August. But all establishments and night shops are allowed to stay open until 1 am.

Cultural sector / sports

Wilmes noted that the “cultural sector is another suffering sector” and contrary to announcements, “this sector has not been forgotten, but the difficulties inherent in the sector have made recovery more difficult”.

Cultural activities can continue without an audience, while cultural activities with an audience will have to wait until 1 July. Rules related to audience management will be provided, but plans include a limitation to 200 people, with social distancing.

Sporting activities can all resume as of 8 June, fitness centres will be able to reopen if they respect the protocol, while contact sports (boxing, judo, basketball, volleyball) should be limited. Swimming pools will remain closed.

Religious worship may resume from 8 June, with up to 100 people in attendance. This will be expanded to 200 people from 1 July.

Tourism

From 8 June it will be possible to make trips in Belgium for one or more days.

From 15 June, the borders will reopen for those travelling within the Schengen zone, while the question of entrance into neighbouring countries  will depend on their decisions.

Germany and France earlier already announced their intention to open borders by 15 June,

“From 15 June, Belgium will reopen its borders,” Wilmes announced but advised everyone to check on the Foreign Affairs Ministry website for the conditions of neighbouring countries.

“The conditions for resuming travel outside Europe will depend on European discussions,” she added.

On the same date, the European Commission will decide on the reopening of both internal and external borders.

In mid-May, the EU executive already set out plans for a phased restart of travel this summer, proposing a gradual lifting of borders in an attempt to kick start a tourism sector hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

What to expect next?

“June 8 is not the end of deconfinement – there will be Phases 4 and 5,” Wilmes warned, adding that those will depend on how the health situation in the country will develop after the reopening.

Read more on the situation in Belgium here:

Belgium plans to keep borders closed to non-Europeans until 7 July

The EURACTIV Network provides you with the latest news on how the country is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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