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    What Phase 4 means for your summer

    Credit: Wikipedia/Pixabay/Piqsels

    As our social bubble keeps growing, swimming pools will reopen and events can take place with an audience again, here’s some clarity about what Belgium’s Phase 4 actually means.

    The country will enter into its next phase out of lockdown from 1 July, and even though there are fewer and fewer rules, it remains incredibly important that people keep following them, according to Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès.

    “If I protect myself, I protect you too,” she said during the press conference on Wednesday. “So please, think about your health, and that of others. The virus is still in the country,” she added.

    Social contact

    How many people can you see?

    Your social bubble can be expanded from 10 people per week, to 15 people per week. These people do not have to be the same ones every week.

    This means that everyone will be allowed to see 15 different people every week, outside your family or household. This can be 15 people all at once, or spread throughout the week.

    This does, however, not mean that every member of your household can invite 15 people. A family of four is not allowed to invite 60 people all in the same week. 

    Going to a cafe, bar or restaurant also has to be done with a group of maximum 15 people.

    What about barbecues, garden or pool parties, a wedding or birthday party in your own home?

    The maximum number of people invited in your own home is still 15, also for festive occasions.

    From 1 July, reception halls will be allowed to reopen for a maximum of 50 people. So if you want a bigger party, you can organise one in a rented hall. From August, up to 100 people will be allowed.

    The reasoning, according to experts, is that private individuals cannot apply the same safety standards as a professional organiser, who is officially obligated to abide by the rules.

    Can you go out dancing?

    All businesses in the hospitality sector have to close their doors at 1:00 AM. 

    The reason is that the longer people are out, the greater the chance that they will get drunk and will not play by the (social distancing) rules. 

    Continuing the party on the streets afterwards, is not allowed. However, nothing stops you from taking the afterparty (with a maximum of 15 people) to your own home.

    Night clubs will only reopen on 1 September, at the earliest.

    Is wearing a face mask still required somewhere?

    Wearing a face mask is mandatory on public transport, and in places where it is specifically requested, such as hospitals. 

    Despite predictions that masks would become mandatory in all stores and supermarkets from July, the National Security Council still kept it at “highly recommended.”

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    Public events

    When will events such as theatre and music performances restart?

    Events with an audience can take place again from 1 July, with a maximum of 200 people indoors, and up to 400 people outdoors. From 1 August, these numbers will be doubled: indoors up to 400, outdoors up to 800.

    What about rehearsals?

    Rehearsals for theatre or music groups, choirs, marching bands… can restart with a maximum of 20 people, but only when the social distance of 1.5 meters can be kept.

    Why is the limit or people for a wedding 50, but for a music performance 200?

    At a party with friends or family, such as a wedding, you often know a lot of people. At a concert or theatre, the situation is different.

    “200 visitors at a theatre performance are strangers to each other. They do not interact with each other and on top of that, they keep a distance of 1.5 meters,” Minister for Economy Nathalie Muylle told Het Nieuwsblad.

    Up to 800 people can attend events in August, but “mass events” are not allowed yet. What is the difference?

    Music festivals such as Rock Werchter or Tomorrowland, which is mainly what the National Security Council meant when they forbade “mass events” until the end of the summer, receive over 10,000 visitors per day. It is virtually impossible to keep the rules of physical distance there. 

    However, if the number of new infections will continue to drop, it will be examined whether these events will be possible from September onwards.

    Sports and recreation

    What activities are possible again?

    Theatres, cinemas, amusement parks, indoor playgrounds, casinos and gaming halls can reopen their doors.

    Reservations will be required in many cases, and operators will work with time slots. They also have to do crowd management and make sure that the social distance can be kept at all times. 

    Street markets will no longer be limited to a maximum of 50 stalls, but here too, the social distance has to be kept.

    What about swimming pools and saunas?

    Swimming pools and wellness centres may reopen their doors, but visitors must keep a distance of 1.5 metres at all times.

    Jacuzzis and steam baths in public facilities must remain closed, but private sauna can reopen. Massages are also allowed again, but both the client and the therapist must wear a mouth mask.

    Can we swim in the sea?

    From Saturday, swimming in the sea is allowed again, and lifeguards will also be on standby in case they are needed.

    Are major sporting events possible again with an audience?

    Sporting events are subject to the same rules as other public events: indoors, there can be a maximum of 200 spectators, outdoors 400, taking into account the social distance rules. From August, these numbers will also be doubled. 

    In football stadiums, for example, the distribution of seats will therefore look completely different, as making sure people can reach their seats or buy their drinks while respecting the measures will require a lot of organisation.

    Travel

    Can you travel to far-away countries?

    Not immediately. In general, non-essential travel outside Europe is still not allowed. 

    On Tuesday 30 June, EU member states were asked to start lifting the travel restrictions at the external borders for citizens of Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay. China is also on the list, but is subject to confirmation of reciprocity.

    This does, however, not automatically mean that Belgians are allowed to enter these countries too. Additionally, arranging flights will be a logistical challenge for airlines, with Brussels Airlines, for example, postponing the resumption of its long-distance flights to August.

    Within Europe, travelling has been possible since 15 June, with some restrictions for Belgian travellers in certain countries.

    Update: This story has been updated to include the latest information on the EU’s decision to start lifting travel restrictions from 1 July.

    Maïthé Chini
    The Brussels Times