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Belgium in Brief: Is Anyone Surprised?

Credit: Belga/Pixabay

Well, the inevitable happened. Belgium has extended the lockdown until the start of next month, while changes to some measures have seen mixed results.

If anyone is surprised, let me know.

The two main points of contention are the reopening of schools (when and how) and a call to allow one person to visit relatives in nursing homes. As expected, festivals have been cancelled, with the summer “mass gatherings” rapidly abandoning 2020.

So what is the latest? We recap the latest measures, explain the concerns of care centres 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 34,809 confirmed cases

1,236 new people have tested positive for the new coronavirus (Covid-19) in Belgium, confirmed the Federal Public Health Service during a press conference on Thursday.

This brings the total number of cases in Belgium, since the beginning of the pandemic, to 34,809. The total reflects all people in Belgium who have been infected, and includes confirmed active cases as well as patients who have since recovered, or died from the consequences of the virus.

“840 of those positive results come from the classical testing network. The other 396 come from tests taken in the residential care centres, which are still ongoing,” said Van Gucht. In total, 134,303 coronavirus tests have been taken in Belgium, of which 6,171 in the past 24 hours. Read more.

2. Lockdown until 3 May: What changed? 

Belgium will extend its lockdown deadline until 3 May in the fight against the coronavirus, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès explained during a press conference on Wednesday.

“Today, no one can say when we will restart our normal lives. There is still a long way to go. Our willpower will be put to the test again and again. Let us not be discouraged. We are still counting on your citizenship and your common sense,” Wilmès said. See the measures here.

3. School opening: a start date by next week?

Schools were the main topic of discussion yesterday, with a lot of back and forth, but here’s the latest. Flemish Education Minister Ben Weyts has said he wants to be able to announce a date for the reopening of schools as early as next week.

Speaking to the Flemish Parliament on Wednesday, Weyts added that he also intends to consult as much as possible with the other Communities on the subject.

“If we could agree on a date, that would be good,” he said. As for the practical measures, they can be coordinated from one community to another, and all schools do not have to open on the same day, Weyts added. Read more (and the Walloon take) here.

4. When will Belgium return to normal? 

No one can say when life in Belgium can return to normal after the coronavirus passes, said Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès following the National Security Council on Wednesday.

“Today, you expect me to give you a possible guarantee about the future. I do so transparently and without false promise: no one can say when normal life will return. Our perseverance will be put to the test again and again. Let it not discourage us,” Wilmès said during the press conference. Read more.

5. No Tomorrowland, No Pukkelpop, No Rock Werchter

Festivals across Belgium have started to announce their cancellations after Belgium’s latest update concerning measures to fight coronavirus in the country.

All mass events are banned until 31 August, the National Security Council announced at a press conference on Wednesday evening. This means that, among other things, Tomorrowland, Pukkelpop and Rock Werchter have announced they will cancel this year. Read more.

The live music industry in Belgium has also said it stands to lose more than €1 billion as a result of the cancellation of mass events until late summer. Read that here.

6. Visiting care centre residents is ‘totally irresponsible’

Belgium’s decision to allow one visitor for people living in residential care centres is “totally irresponsible” in light of the coronavirus, said the umbrella organisation of roughly 300 Flemish centres Zorgnet-Icuro.

“We are going to advise our residential care centres to not follow this guideline,” said Margot Cloet, managing director of the umbrella organisation Zorgnet-Icuro, to VRT. “This has definitely not been decided at the request of the residential care centres. We were not involved in any consultation about it,” she added. Read more.

7. Amazon threatens to shut down in France (this impacts Belgium too)

Online retail giant Amazon has closed its sites in France for five days starting today (16 April) with a threat to close its operations in France entirely as a result of a court judgement.

The statement talks of France only, but a closure there would severely affect customers in Belgium, where people use the German site or the French site, in the absence of a dedicated Belgian service. Read more.

Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times