Belgium in Brief: How To Leave A Lockdown

Belgium in Brief: How To Leave A Lockdown
Credit: Belga/Jules Johnston

Arguably the biggest news of today is one we won't know the intricacies of until the end of the week - the proposal on how Belgium could begin to wrap up the lockdown, and restore a level of normality.

As the lockdown continues, some shops are saying they might not reopen, while companies are saying they are ready to go. Municipalities fight for masks, Belgium passes 6,000 deaths, and the latest figures - here's the news from today.

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 41,889 confirmed cases

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

This brings the total number of cases in Belgium, since the beginning of the pandemic, to 41,889. 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.

408 of the newly-infected people live in Flanders, 446 live in Wallonia, and 60 live in Brussels. The FPS does not yet have further information on the place of residence of 19 other people. Read more.

Additionally, 266 new people have died from the consequences of the virus in Belgium. Of the newly-reported deaths in the last 24 hours, 118 occurred in Flanders, 109 in Wallonia, and 39 in Brussels. The total number of deaths in Belgium since the beginning of the pandemic is currently 6,262. More here.

2. Leaving lockdown: how it could happen in Belgium

As Belgium continues to debate changes in the lockdown measures, the group of national experts tasked with exit strategy has developed a proposal on how the next steps could look.

Most notably, the Group of Experts for an Exit Strategy (GEES) has recommended a partial reopening of businesses and shops from 4 May and a return to school from 18 May, but these are not the only changes proposed by the group. Read what we know here.

3. City of Brussels lowers speed limit to 20 km/h

The City of Brussels will lower the speed limit inside the inner ring road to 20 km/h during the lockdown measures because of the coronavirus.

All streets in the pentagon-shaped city centre will become residential areas, meaning that pedestrians have priority everywhere, and may use the full width of the street to move around.

The measure will enter into force from the end of April or the beginning of May. Traffic signs will be installed and the police will monitor compliance with the rules. Read more.

4. After the crisis, some shops may decide not to reopen

The entire retail sector is desperately hoping 3 May brings at least the start of a resurrection of business, after almost two months of restrictions and total closure.

However, according to a report in De Tijd, some retail chains may decide not to re-open some of their stores after all when restrictions are lifted. In some cases, re-opening could turn out to be more expensive than simply staying closed.

The paper quotes Boris van Haare of Cushman & Wakefield, the largest retail estate agent in the country, who points out that at the moment of re-opening, fixed costs go back to 100% – rent and staff wages, mainly – while income is anyone’s guess. Read more.

5. Flemish mayors push for clarity on face mask use

Flemish towns and cities are calling for clear rules on the use of face masks in public as more mayors take matters into their own hands in the absence of guidelines from higher levels of government.

The Association of Flemish Cities and Municipalities (VVSG) said that federal leaders needed to put out a clear exit strategy which addressed the standards and the conditions for the use of masks by the general public.

"When and where should people wear face masks, [according to] which standards and conditions, will the federal government intervene in the purchase?" VVSG wrote in an online statement. Read more.

6. Belgium’s high death toll will deter tourists

Belgium’s system of counting and communicating the number of deaths linked to the coronavirus will, in the long run, be problematic for tourism, said Flemish Minister for Tourism, Zuhal Demir.

The idea is spreading that Belgium is a high-risk country, Demir said in the Flemish Parliament on Tuesday.

Comparisons between official figures per million inhabitants place Belgium among the countries with one of the highest coronavirus-related mortality rates. This is mostly due to the method of calculation, and the decision to also include deaths in residential care centres suspected of being linked to the virus. Read more.

7. The Flemish trust science, but not so much scientists

The public in Flanders has a high degree of trust in science, and recognises the benefit of science and research, but also has less trust in scientists themselves.

Nine out of ten respondents said they recognised the good of science and research, a figure than dropped slightly to 75% even when the research had no immediate application. The figure was particularly high among business owners, at 98%. Read more.

Jules Johnston

The Brussels Times

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