With the daily rate of COVID-19 infections on the rise, Belgium’s National Security Council (CNS) decided on Thursday (23 July) to extend the obligations to wear masks and fill in a travel form for returning from vacation, and to postpone phase 5 of deconfinement.
The roll-back comes after a significant rise in cases over the past week (13 to 19 July), with the estimated daily rate up at an average of 193 cases, an increase of 91% compared to the previous period (6-12 July).
“The latest numbers should not make us panic, but we should take them seriously,” Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès told a press conference in Brussels.
The spike was “not abnormal” but “should stay under control”, she said and added:
“Absolute prudence is required or we will need to take very tough measures.”
Here’s a rundown of the new measures:
Additionally to public transport, in shops, cinemas, theatres, places of worship and museums, from Saturday (25 July), face masks will be mandatory in busy shopping streets, markets and in public buildings, with local authorities having been asked to draw up a list of places where masks will be mandatory.
That could be indicated with a kind of “traffic sign”, top virologist Marc Van Ranst suggested.
“Social bubbles” of up to 15 people per week will remain in effect, although there had been suggestions to reduce the number to 10.
“If everyone adheres strictly to the bubble of 15, we can keep our social bubble, which is so important to us,” Wilmès said during the press conference.
Additionally, when going out, one person per table will have to leave contact details (name and email address or telephone number) to facilitate contact tracing, which will have to be kept in store for 14 days.
“By Saturday, a form will be available on the FPS Economy website,” Wilmès announced.
According to the new rules, night shops will be obliged to close at 10 pm, while the 1 am curfew remains in place for the catering industry.
Travellers returning to Belgium from a trip abroad will be required to complete an online questionnaire 48 hours prior to arrival, which will facilitate tracing in the event of contamination after returning from vacation, whether by plane, car or train.
The measure is meant to apply no matter whether the person is coming back from a high-risk area or not, Wilmes explained.
In the event of non-compliance, holidaymakers may be fined.
The form in English can already be found on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and it must be filled in and forwarded by email.
More power to local authorities
Ahead of the meeting, Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever (N-VA) had rushed forward with six additional COVID-19 measures ahead of the meeting, proposing that meetings be limited to 10 people from Saturday, people going to a café asked to leave their contact details and requirements for people to wear a mask in more places.
Many other mayors, such as those from seaside city Oostende or Flemish Kortrijk, did not wait for the decisions of the National Security Council and have already issued stricter measures than in the rest of the country.
According to the decision, cities and municipalities will now be able to introduce additional measures locally if they experience a flare-up. Those can range from requiring additional mouth masks to setting a local lockdown in extreme cases.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]