Belgium in Brief: Deconfinement Isn’t ‘Cast In Stone’

Belgium in Brief: Deconfinement Isn’t ‘Cast In Stone’
Credit: Belga

I know it’s Monday, but we really have to talk about Friday. The weekend kicked off with a substantial press conference – colourful slideshow and all – which fundamentally laid out how Belgium’s lockdown movements could look for weeks to come.

Three phases, starting on 4 May, aim to move the country substantially closer to a new normal way of life by 8 June. All of these dates, however, are totally dependent on how things progress.

Ultimately, nothing is cast in stone.

So instead, let’s have a look at the news. Shopping returns, masks become a priority discussion, 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: 113 new deaths, 127 hospital admissions in Belgium

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

This brings the total number of cases in Belgium, since the beginning of the pandemic, to 46,687. 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.

281 of the newly-infected people live in Flanders, 189 live in Wallonia, and 77 live in Brussels. The FPS does not yet have further information on the place of residence of 6 other people. Read more.

2. Belgium will lift lockdown in 3 phases

Belgium will lift its lockdown, imposed to contain the further spread of the coronavirus in several phases, announced Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès during a press conference on Friday.

The Group of Experts for an Exit Strategy (GEES), which has to ease the country out of the lockdown, handed over its report of recommendations, of which two previous versions leaked to the press this week, to the government.

The transition between phases will be monitored, and based on a number of criteria, including the spread of the virus, the number of hospital admissions and the saturation of intensive care beds. The transition of the phases will be confirmed at the latest one week before the date of transition. Read more.

3. ‘Common sense’ will prevent crowding when shops reopen, health minister says

There is no need for measures to prevent crowding on shopping streets as people’s common sense should ensure the reopening of shops in May goes smoothly, Federal Health Minister Maggie De Block said Monday.

In a radio interview on Radio 1, De Block said that she did not think it was necessary to regulate pedestrian traffic on popular and normally busy high streets once shops went back to business on 11 May.

“I’m not going to control traffic on the Meir,” De Block said, referring to the busiest shopping street in Belgium, located in downtown Antwerp. Read more.

4. ‘Nothing is cast in stone,’ says Prime Minister Wilmès on deconfinement

Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès stressed on Sunday that the resumption of activities following the confinement prompted by the coronavirus would be an evolving process in which the health situation would be assessed before going on to the next stage.

“Nothing is cast in stone,” Prime Minister Wilmès said on RTL-TVi, referring to Friday’s meeting of the National Security Council and the decisions taken there.

“The dates announced are indicative dates. Whenever we need to move on from one stage to the next, we are going to make sure the health situation allows it. This is something that needs to become evident.” Read more.

5. Hospital admissions still high, could compromise reopenings

The number of persons who have died from the coronavirus in Belgium has now topped the 7,000-mark, the public health scientific institute, Sciensano, reports on Sunday.

The number of new admissions has been hovering around 200 for the past five days, said virologist Marc Van Ranst on Saturday on VTM.

New hospital admissions remain stable, but “have not gone down for a few days now,” he added.

This number “needs to keep going down […] to under 100 per day” if stores are to be allowed to reopen, as planned, on 11 May. Read more.

6. More and more wolves are spotted in Belgium

More and more wolves have been spotted in Belgium in recent months, both in the northern and southern parts of the country, according to environmental organisations.

In fact, a pack may even be in the making in Wallonia if ‘Akela’ and a new female wolf spotted in his territory manage to have cubs, the Flemish association Landschap, the group behind the Welkom Wolf initiative, said on Sunday. Read more.

7. Sending all Belgians a mask not manageable by 4 May, Minister confirms

Providing everyone in Belgium with a face mask by 4 May will not be possible, confirmed Minister Koen Geens’ cabinet on Monday, after the minister already said the same thing on Sunday.

From 4 May, wearing a face mask will become mandatory in companies that cannot guarantee sufficient social distance between its employees, and on public transport for people over 12 years old.

“The federal government and the regions will work together to ensure that every citizen is given at least one standard fabric face mask, free of charge, that completely covers the mouth and nose,” the National Security Council announced along with its exit plan to ease the country out of the lockdown on Friday. “People will also be given two filters, to be put into masks bought or made,” they added. Read more.

Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times

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