Just six weeks after the Consultative Committee launched the coronavirus barometer, Belgium is already moving into 'code yellow,' Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced during a press conference on Friday.
From Monday 7 March, Belgium will switch to 'code yellow' on its coronavirus barometer. "That means that from Monday, the vast majority of restrictions will disappear," announced De Croo.
In practice, this means that the Covid Safe Ticket (CST) will no longer be required to gain entrance to events, bars and gyms, and that the face mask obligation will disappear. In schools, face masks will no longer be compulsory from Monday either.
The face mask remains compulsory from the age of 12 in healthcare institutions, such as hospitals and residential care homes, as well as in public transport.
"However, in places where no safe distance can be maintained, it is still recommended," he said. For vulnerable people who are at an increased risk, an FFP2 mask also remains recommended, both indoors and outdoors.
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For events, the capacity limits will be lifted as well, meaning that concerts can take place in full venues again, for example.
From Friday 11 March, travellers entering Belgium from within the European Union will no longer need to complete the Passenger Locator Form (PLF). However, the form remains required for those coming from outside the EU, unless the country is on the so-called 'white list' of safe destinations.
The end of the federal phase of crisis management will also end on 11 March, just a few days before the second anniversary of when Belgium first went into lockdown. Acknowledging the welcome news, De Croo light-heartedly added that "going to events, going to the movies, going to concerts... it is all absolutely recommended from now on."
'Resilience and perseverance'
The Prime Minister took the opportunity to thank all those who "have given the best of themselves in the past two years": the experts who have assisted the government, the numerous volunteers, teachers, the logistics sectors and the pharmaceutical industry in Belgium for its "leading role in the development of vaccines."
He gave special thanks to everyone working in the healthcare sector: "We owe you a lot and we will never forget all your efforts. The coronavirus has taught us that we should always speak carefully, but that does not take away from the fact that we are closing an important chapter here. It is a beautiful symbol of our resilience and perseverance."
"We have been up against several variants, we have experienced five waves and it has taken a heavy toll. Over 30,000 of our fellow citizens have died from the virus," said De Croo, adding that the difficult period has also taught us a lot. "If we care for each other, work hand in hand and show solidarity, we can overcome the most difficult obstacles."
'Very important step towards normal life'
For Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke, this switch to code yellow is "a very important step towards normal life."
"People have persevered through trial and error with measures that were annoying. I think they – and we – are all happy that they can finally be abolished," he said.
However, he also warned that the virus is still out there, and that should still be taken into account. "Please, do not hesitate to go to the cinema, to go have a drink, to go to a concert. But be smart: pay attention to ventilation, and if you do not feel well, stay at home."
"If you look at the infections, our situation today is better than the situation in our neighbouring countries. I think that is the result of relaxing the measures in a very cautious way," said Vandenbroucke. "We do have to realise that the virus continues to circulate. An important part of the agenda today was about preparing for the future."
Additionally, the Interministerial Conference (IMC) on Health will meet next Wednesday, to discuss testing, tracing and quarantine measures, he added.
'Unthinkable' war in Ukraine
De Croo also referred to the war in Ukraine, saying that "just as with the pandemic, we in Europe are again confronted with something that was unthinkable," he said.
"We will do everything to keep our country and Europe safe. I see an unprecedented unity of solidarity, both humanitarian and military," De Croo said. "Just before this press conference, I spoke with the heads of government of Poland, Moldova and Slovakia."
All three countries border Ukraine and are currently facing enormous refugee flows. "These are people who have had to leave everything behind. I promised them that Belgium would continue to support them. There is also new humanitarian aid on the way... any contribution we can make will make a difference."
The next Consultative Committee will likely take place on 25 March. During that meeting, the possibility of dropping the coronavirus barometer altogether will also be examined, De Croo said.