Belgium will go ahead with the next phase of its exit plan out of the lockdown from 11 May as planned, announced Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès during a press conference on Wednesday.
Following a meeting with Belgium’s National Security Council, that started at 9:00 AM on Wednesday, Wilmès announced the country’s next stage, Phase 1B, in its deconfinement strategy.
"Since Monday, Belgium has started easing the confinement measures. However, the measures are still there, and will be for quite some time to come," said Wilmès, adding that a complete lockdown is not a long-term solution.
From Sunday 10 May, people living under the same roof will be allowed to receive up to 4 people in their home, always the same people. These people will not be allowed to visit anywhere else. The physical distance must also be kept at all times, and if there is a terrace or a garden, it is preferable that they stay outside.
Children are also included in this group of four people who are allowed to visit. Grandchildren are also allowed to visit their grandparents, but it is important to keep the necessary distance. Visits are not allowed if one of the visitors or family members is ill.
"There is no distance limit on how far the journey can be for such a visit. Day trips and excursions are still not allowed, but we definitely consider visiting one of your loved ones as an essential journey," said Wilmès.
"Four people per visit, we cannot check that. But we are hoping for everyone's common sense and sense of responsibility. We hope that people will continue their efforts over the next few weeks," said Federal Minister for Economy and Work Nathalie Muylle.
From 11 May, the shops will reopen. For these stores, the same measures as for the supermarkets are in force. Only 1 customer per 10 square meters is allowed, for a maximum period of 30 minutes. There are exceptions for smaller shops. A safe working environment must be guaranteed for workers.
Social distance is mandatory, and it is strongly recommended that each customer wears mouth-nose protection. You can only go shopping alone, with the exception of children under 18, and people who need help.
Wilmès calls for only shopping in your own neighbourhood. "If it is crowded in a shop, go back home. Priority should be given to care workers, the elderly and the less mobile," said Wilmès.
Markets remain banned, but food stalls are allowed to reopen if they get permission from the local authorities.
Gatherings and travelling remain forbidden.
Bars, restaurants and cafes remain closed.
Sports competitions, both amateur and professional ones, will remain suspended until at least 31 July.
Wearing a mouth mask remains mandatory on public transport, as well as in airports.
The figures are evolving favourably, according to Wilmés. Testing and tracing are crucial in the next phase of the lockdown. Belgium is "among the best in Europe in terms of the number of tests per inhabitant," she said.
No decision has been made regarding the next phase, that is set to start from 18 May, such as the reopening of hairdressers.
The National Security Council is now preparing Phase 2, which can start from 18 May, if all the criteria are met. "Together with the experts, we are looking into what is possible for the museums, libraries, zoos and other places. We are also investigating whether hairdressers and beauty centres can be reopened, and whether more people can be allowed at weddings and funerals," she said.
"Covid-19 will remain in our lives," said Wilmès. "The virus continues to infect people, people continue to be hospitalised and people continue to die. We will not hesitate to reverse the measures if the situation worsens again," she added.
The government counts on people's sense of responsibility and common sense, as it will become increasingly difficult for the police to check if people are respecting the measures, the more they will be relaxed, Wilmès said.
"In order to avoid everyone will have to stay in their homes again, we have to be very careful and make sure that the rules we are proposing are respected," she said.
However, everyone's efforts have already made many things possible, she said. "The efforts you have been making in the last weeks are exceptional. A new step in the deconfinement is proof that your efforts have paid off. Take good care of yourself and the others."
Maïthé Chini and Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times