Belgium in Brief: 3 Stages To Lift Lockdown

Belgium in Brief: 3 Stages To Lift Lockdown
Credit: Piqsels/Belga/Pxhere

Let’s start with the big news – we find out more on future lockdown measures this evening. Two separate leaks this week have left us unsure what’s coming, but we all expect something.

As was reiterated yesterday, nothing is confirmed until it is announced, but the most recent information points towards 3 stages of gradual lockdown lifting in Belgium stretching to early June. This was, however, accompanied by a mention of the fact that while measures are expected to ease, they could just as easily be tightened again if things don’t go the way we want.

We’ll officially know more later.

While we wait, let’s have a look at the news. Mask policy in Belgium develops, inviting friends over for a barbecue is still not allowed and the latest figures.

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. Coronavirus: 190 new deaths, 210 hospital admissions in Belgium

1,496 new people have tested positive for the new coronavirus (Covid-19) in Belgium, confirmed the Federal Public Health Service during a press conference on Friday.

This brings the total number of cases in Belgium, since the beginning of the pandemic, to 44,293. 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.

602 of the newly-infected people live in Flanders, 646 live in Wallonia, and 106 live in Brussels. The FPS does not yet have further information on the place of residence of 142 other people. Read more.

2. Experts’ note reveals 3 stages for lifting coronavirus lockdown

A second version of the experts’ note on gradually lifting the lockdown proposes it be done in three phases all dependent on a number of conditions.

The version, obtained by the Dutch and Francophone press, follows a draft report leaked to Le Soir on Wednesday.

The new note by the Group of Experts for an Exit Strategy (GEES) sets out three key deconfinement phases which they say should only be activated if a number of conditions is met: that hospital admissions do not rise above 200 per day, that Belgium reaches a daily testing capacity of 25,000 tests per day and that people continue to “drastically reduce” contacts with each other. Read more.

3. Decisions will be made at the security council, ‘not in the press’

Any announcement on the future of Belgium’s lockdown will come from Friday’s meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) – not from leaks or the press, the Belgian Prime Minister said on Thursday.

Questioned in the plenary session of the House, Sophie Wilmès did not expand on any of the decisions that could be taken Friday.

“It is within the NSC that decisions on the next steps will be taken. And only at the NSC, not in the press, not through leaks, not through interviews. If you want to pay attention one time, that would be the moment,” she said. Read more.

4. Inviting friends over still not allowed, says De Block

Federal Minister for Public Health Maggie De Block calls on everyone to keep respecting the lockdown measures, despite their enthusiasm to return to normal life as soon as possible.

The enthusiasm is understandable, according to De Block, but people should remain cautious, even if the measures to contain the further spread of the new coronavirus (Covid-19) are beginning to take their toll. “As a doctor and as a minister, I am very concerned,” she told Het Nieuwsblad, adding that “the virus is still on its way around the world.”

She compared the future relaxing of the measures with the cast that is removed after a broken leg has healed. “It feels like a huge relief, but you have to take it easy for a while. If you start running and jumping immediately, chances are you’ll be back in the hospital right away,” De Block added. Read more.

5. Will coronavirus end low-cost flying?

A decline in passengers and an increase in social distancing regulations could mean the end of low-cost flying, according to new industry estimations. 

There is “not an airline in the world” capable of flying planes that are only half full, said International Air Transport Association (IATA) CEO Alexandre De Juniac on Wednesday. If they did, they would have to increase prices by 100%, he told French radio station Europe 1.

“We are trying to see whether we can make them fly” at full capacity, De Juniac said, pointing out that “if you provide masks and gloves, knowing that the air is filtered, there’s a big question mark” as to the necessity of social distancing on planes. Read more.

6. Brussels region will provide ‘at least’ one face mask per resident

If the use of face masks in public is officially recommended as the country begins to lift the lockdown, regional leaders in Brussels will provide at least one mask to each resident.

“If the National Security Council (NSC) recommends that the population wear face masks, the Brussels government considers it appropriate to provide each citizen with at least one reusable fabric mask,” the region said in a statement. Read more.

7. 750,000 tonnes of potatoes at risk of being destroyed

Belgian potato farmers are facing a surplus of some 750,000 tonnes of crop that risks being destroyed because of measures taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to the sector organisation Belgapom.

Potato farmers face the consequences of a crash in the market. Since the lockdown in mid-March, restaurants have been closed, and demand has slumped. And the near future promises no relief. Read more.

Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times

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