In practice, what do Belgium’s shutdown measures mean?
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    In practice, what do Belgium’s shutdown measures mean?

    Credit: Jules Johnston/Wikimedia/Belga

    The new, stricter federal government measures to stop the further spread of the new coronavirus (Covid-19) in Belgium have raised a lot of new questions.

    People have to stay at home as much as possible, and avoid contact with other people. However, as the government has not called for an all-out lockdown, the grey zone between what is and what isn’t allowed is causing a lot of confusion for many people. Here are the answers to some of the often-asked questions.

    Can I still go to visit my parents?

    No, everyone in Belgium has to stay at home and avoid contact outside their immediate family as much as possible. However, going out to help people in need is allowed, so visiting parents who need help is still allowed.

    Additionally, elderly people are a risk group, meaning they suffer the worst consequences of being infected with the coronavirus. Of the 14 people in Belgium who died from the virus, the youngest was 59 years old.

    Can I still meet up with friends?

    No, people are asked to only go out for “essential” reasons. Getting together in groups is prohibited. However, physical activity in the open air is allowed and even recommended, with one friend or acquaintance, provided social distancing is respected.

    Is the household help still allowed to come?

    The household help is still allowed at the moment, but the federation representing the service cheque sector has asked the government to close down the sector, reports De Morgen.

    Several companies, such as Tempo-Team, have proactively decided to stop their cleaning services for the time being.

    Can I still ask for a babysitter?

    Yes. Everyone is asked to stay within their own “family bubble,” but just like for physical activity, one friend from outside the family can join. That additional person is allowed to be a babysitter.

    The babysitting service of the Family Association also remains active. “All the babysitting appointments that are planned, will be carried out,” said spokesperson Kurt Jacobs to De Standaard. “But we ask families not to make new appointments, and we ask our babysitters not to respond to new requests,” he added.

    What about co-parenting? Can children still see both their parents?

    Yes. There is no ban in place regarding anything within a family context, Flemish Minister-President stressed. “It is best for children of divorced parents to keep moving between both parents,” he said, but no handshakes or kisses when the child goes from one parent to the other.

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    Can children from the same neighbourhood still play together?

    No, all groups or gatherings outside the family are forbidden. “The police will strictly supervise if this measure is being complied with. Young people who play outside together can get a fine,” said Minister for Finance Alexander De Croo. “It depends on the municipality how high that fine will be,” he added.

    Will parks, recreation areas and nature reserves remain open?

    Yes, but the Forest and Nature Agency has asked people to not make long journeys, but to go into nature as close to home as possible. “Take all your trash back home with you, too,” the agency said.

    However, visiting the coast or the Ardennes is not recommended. “Go walking and cycling, but do it in your own neighbourhood and not in a group,” said Professor Delang of KU Leuven to De Standaard.

    Is it wise to use public transport right now?

    The federal government has decided that public transport has to continue running, but social distancing between the passengers must be guaranteed.

    STIB, SNCB, De Lijn and TEC have all taken measures to make sure everything can continue to run safely, by for example cutting back on their services, only allowing a certain number of passengers in their vehicles, limiting contact between people, and paying extra attention to cleaning the stations.

    More detailed information about which company is taking which measures can be found here.

    Will the garbage still be collected?

    Yes. The container parks are closed, but the garbage will still be collected, and can be put outside on the scheduled dates. “Garbage collectors continue working. The state of health would be dramatic if we didn’t let that happen,” said Jambon.

    What about funerals?

    Funerals are allowed, but only with immediate family. Cemeteries also remain open for visitors, but the distance of 1.5 meters has to be respected as well.

    Can I still go to the psychologist or physical therapist?

    “If you need urgent care, it is allowed,” said Peter Mertens of the Crisis Centre. “Maintain the social distance as much as possible. However, many professionals have chosen to suspend their activities on their own,” he added.

    Do online stores remain open?

    Yes. They can also deliver products to people’s homes. Here, too, the basic conditions must be met: keep a distance of 1.5 metres and guarantee hygiene.

    Are electricians and plumbers still allowed to work?

    Urgent repairs remain possible, according to the Crisis Centre. “If you no longer have hot water, you can have your boiler repaired, but for example, a broken filter for your swimming pool will have to wait,” Mertens said. “Here, too, respect the social distance of at least 1.5 metres. Between yourself and the electrician, but also between workmen,” he added.

    Is construction work still happening?

    Yes, but not everywhere. “Companies are still testing whether it is possible to continue to guarantee the safety of their employees on construction sites,” said Sven Nouten of the Construction Confederation to De Tijd.

    Some construction companies are closing, others are continuing to work for the time being.

    Maïthé Chini
    The Brussels Times