Vague vacation rules: why Belgium changed its mind on quarantining orange zones

Vague vacation rules: why Belgium changed its mind on quarantining orange zones
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Despite the rising coronavirus figures, travellers returning to Belgium from so-called "orange zones" will not need to quarantine after all, as the recommendation was too vague, according to inter-federal Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht.

Going into self-quarantine and getting tested when returning from an orange travel zone is no longer necessary by default, according to Foreign Affairs, which now only asks for "increased vigilance."

On the website of health institute Sciensano, a document detailing procedures for general practitioners, updated on Monday, states that "travellers returning from orange zones are no longer considered to be high-risk contacts" and the passages on the recommended test and quarantine have been crossed out.

People who passed through a red zone, such as a layover at an airport for example, also do not need to quarantine upon return, the update clarifies. "Rapid transit through airports that are in a red zone but still allow air traffic, is permitted subject to compliance with the following conditions taking the known measures," Sciensano said, referring to the wearing of a mask, keeping your distance and hand hygiene.

"However, they will be asked to be extra vigilant on the appearance of symptoms. If there are symptoms which may point to Covid-19, they will be asked to contact their family doctor and mention their travel history," Sciensano said.

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As the "strong recommendation" to go into self-quarantine is dropped, the government is fully following the advice of the experts, according to Van Gucht.

"It is not necessary to go into quarantine by default," he told VRT. "People who have been to an orange zone, however, have been at increased risk," he said, adding that it is important that people are aware of that.

"Returning travellers should not visit people in poor health or at increased risk in the first two weeks after their return," Van Gucht added.

"From the outset, the scientists have stated that a 'strong recommendation' to quarantine is probably difficult to put into practice. Some will do it, others will not. That creates a lot of resentment and ambiguity, among employers as well. Either you make it mandatory or you don't," Van Gucht said.

Last Thursday, the government announced that it would split up the EU into colour-coded areas, to indicate the coronavirus risk when going there. Upon return, travellers had to adhere to certain measures, depending on the colour their travel destination had.

Green means that no specific measures are required upon return. Red means a ban on travelling to the area, and returning travellers are required to be quarantined and tested.

As of Tuesday, the orange zones in the EU were Upper Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Aragon and Catalonia in Spain, Trento in Italy, Luxembourg, Algarve and Alentejo in Portugal, Moravskoslezský in the Czech Republic, Slaskie in Poland, Romania, Midland, North East, Yorkshire, North Wales and Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom and Ticino in Switzerland.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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