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Belgium in Brief: Planning An Exit

Credit: INBO/Instituut Natuur- en Bosonderzoek/Belga

It’s a holiday today, but you would be forgiven for forgetting that fact given the circumstances. Once the long weekend is over, however, we will all be facing a potentially different Belgium as the country begins to plan an exit.

Belgian PM Sophie Wilmès has already faced criticism for the approach to exiting the lockdown, with calls that the focus is on economic rather than social. This is perhaps most evident in the fact that you could arguably see your friends or family while buying clothes long before you see them in a more controlled environment like a home.

As we approach a new normal, or a phasing to a new normal, let’s take a look at the news from today. Airlines told to refund cancelled flights, communes begin new measures to adapt to the lockdown lifting, and the latest figures (even though there wasn’t a press conference 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 49,032 confirmed cases

513 additional people have tested positive for the new coronavirus (Covid-19) in Belgium in the last 24 hours, according to figures by the Federal Public Health Service on Friday.

This brings the total number of cases in Belgium, since the beginning of the pandemic, to 49,032. 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.

329 of the newly-infected people live in Flanders, 146 live in Wallonia, and 36 live in Brussels. The FPS does not yet have further information on the place of residence of 2 other people. Read more.

2. Airlines must refund cancelled tickets

As the coronavirus crisis has seen many flights and travel plans cancelled – and several airlines are keen to offer vouchers instead of refunds – one question stands out: can you get your money back?

In normal circumstances, European law determines that the consumer has a right to choose between a refund within seven days and an alternative flight. “Of course, the legislation was not written with such a pandemic in mind. This is a very exceptional situation for everyone,” Simon November, a spokesperson for consumer organisation Test-Achats explained. Read more.

3. Belgian PM faces criticism for Friday’s updates

Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès has faced criticism for her communication about the coronavirus crisis, specifically regarding the National Security Council’s press conference on Friday.

The criticism mainly centred around the late starting hour of the press conference on Friday evening, the many details, and the complicated presentation, according to the different political parties in the Chamber.

Additionally, the exit plan focused too much on the economy and too little on the lack of social contacts due to the lockdown, they said. “We will see our boss before we see our family, and safety will not be guaranteed in the workplace,” said Raoul Hedebouw of the far-left PVDA/PTB party. Read more.

4. Wolf killing faces €500,000 fine in Flanders

Wolves will be given the highest degree of protection in Flanders, which means that killing one deliberately can be punished by fines up to €500,000, according to a preliminary draft decree.

The intentional killing of a wolf can also be punished with a prison sentence of up to five years. Initially, the maximum fine was €250,000, which rises to €500,000 because of the highest protection level, to which additional surcharges can still be added. Read more.

5. Exit plan: Molenbeek to introduce 20 km/h speed limit from 11 May

The Brussels municipality of Molenbeek-Saint-Jean will implement a maximum speed of 20 km/h on major roads as a result of the coronavirus, a measure which will take effect from 11 May.

Additionally, the municipality will also ask the Brussels Region to implement the 20 km/h speed limit on regional roads, such as the Quai du Hainaut, the Quai des Charbonnages and the Quai de Mariemont, from Sainctelette to Delacroix, as well as part of the Chaussée de Gand. Read more.

6. Children can safely go back to school, say paediatricians

Paediatricians have confirmed that it is safe for children to go back to school from 15 May, the Federal Public Health Service said during the coronavirus press briefing on Thursday.

“In our opinion, the disadvantages associated with extended quarantine do not outweigh the advantages of restarting school. Education is a basic right of every child and school plays a key role in this”.

If Belgium’s next phases in the exit plan go ahead as planned, schools will reopen from Monday 18 May, with certain pilot projects already starting on Friday 15 May. Read more.

7. Lockdown will help Flanders reach 2020 climate goals

Flanders will likely reach its 2020 climate goals, but not thanks to its policy, the Flemish environmental organisation Bond Beter Leefmilieu (BBL) warned on Thursday.

“The good news is that Flemish CO2 emissions have fallen sharply in recent months. The bad news is that this is not due to a strong climate policy, but to the coronavirus crisis,” according to BBL.

People are staying at home and driving less, “but it goes without saying that this is not a structural solution for the climate.” Read more.

Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times

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