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    Belgium in Brief: ‘Too Early’ To Loosen Lockdowns

    Credit: Creative Commons/Belga/NIAID-RML (CC BY 2.0)

    Despite news from countries that aim to lift, loosen or reduce their lockdown measures, the message within Belgium remains pretty clear.

    With hospitals packed and confirmed cases rising, it’s just too early.

    Now that’s out of the way, what else is going on? The fries sector is suffering, a guide on what your rights are if you’re temporarily unemployed, and the latest figures in Belgium.

    With so much information, and so little time to catch up before it potentially changes again, here are some of the top stories from around the country to get you up to speed.

    Belgium in Brief is a free daily roundup of the top stories to get you through your lunch break conversations. To receive it straight to your inbox every day, sign up below:



    1. Belgium reaches 23,403 confirmed cases

    1,209 new people have tested positive for the new coronavirus (Covid-19), confirmed the Federal Public Health Service during a press conference on Wednesday.

    544 of the newly-infected people live in Flanders, 548 live in Wallonia, and 101 live in Brussels. The FPS does not yet have further information on the place of residence of 16 other people. The total number of cases in Belgium, since the beginning of the pandemic, is 23,403. Read more.

    2. Belgium pours €5 million into efforts to fast-track Coronavirus vaccine

    Belgium has pledged €5 million to boost efforts by international researchers racing to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus.

    The funds will be made available to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), an international public-private partnership set up in 2017 to accelerate the development of vaccines and ensure “equitable access” to them.

    Belgium’s contribution to CEPI comes after the research group issued an urgent call for $2 billion in donations in mid-March as it announced efforts to develop at least three candidate vaccines to fight the new coronavirus. Read more.

    3. ‘Too early’ for Belgium to loosen coronavirus lockdown, government task force warns

    It is “far too early” for Belgium to define a timetable to lift its coronavirus lockdown, the head of the expert team appointed to steer the country out of the nationwide standstill warned.

    “It is far too early for that, the hospitals are still packed, it is not yet time to loosen the grip like in Austria,” Erika Vlieghe, infectious disease expert told De Standaard.

    Vlieghe’s statements come a day after authorities in Austria announced a dated exit strategy out of the country’s coronavirus lockdown, set to begin on 15 April, just over a month after it was imposed on 10 March. Read more.

    4. Belgian fries begin to suffer

    The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has dealt a blow to a particularly Belgian market, the humble fries (and other potato products).

    According to industry figures, around 1 million tons of potatoes – an estimated €200 million worth in better times – are currently stored in the barns across the country. These should be sold on and turned into potato products, but in current times that’s not guaranteed. Read more.

    5. Temporarily unemployed because of coronavirus: What now?

    Over 1.2 million people in Belgium have applied for temporary unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic, but who is (and isn’t) eligible, and what are their rights and obligations?

    As all non-essential shops have closed and all events have been cancelled following the announcement of the government’s measures mid-March, and the measures have been extended to 19 April, but will likely be extended again as the government task force stated it was “far too early” to lift the measures, about 10% of Belgians have applied for unemployment benefits to get through the lockdown period. Read more.

    6. ‘Too early’ to undo coronavirus lockdowns, says WHO Europe boss

    It is “certainly too early” to begin lifting confinement measures against the coronavirus pandemic, the Belgian director of the World Health Organisation’s European division said.

    “At the current moment, it is certainly still too early to start relaxing measures” to contain the spread of the new coronavirus (Covid-19), Hans Kluge said in an interview with Knack. Read more.

    7. Brussels considers new use for air raid shelter under flea market

    The Brussels regional government is seeking ideas for the re-purposing of an air raid shelter situated under the flea market on Place du Jeu de Balles in the Marolles district of the city.

    The shelter was constructed at some point in the 19th century, and reassigned in 1942, when Belgium was already occupied by the Nazi invader, and intended to protect the heavily-populated area from Allied bombing. The shelter under the square measures 35m by 5m, with a single point of access. Read more.

    Jules Johnston
    The Brussels Times