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Belgium in Brief: We’re Waiting

Credit: Nathalie Moermans/Belga

We’re back in a waiting period, or still in one, by this point it’s getting increasingly hard to tell. The big news today – aside from a woman making a cardboard car to go get her McDonald’s – is the next meeting of Belgium’s National Security Council.

The Council will meet at 9:00 AM, and the hour at which the press conference will start will be announced in advance. This is meant to avoid a repeat of the conference on 24 April, which started late on Friday night, and for which Wilmès received a lot of criticism.

The main topic on the agenda will be the start of Phase 1B, of Belgium’s deconfinement strategy, which is expected see all stores reopening from 11 May, if the evolution of the curve allows it.

As we approach a new normal, or a phasing to a new normal, let’s take a look at the news from today. Belgians are told to keep track of their close contacts movements, Thalys says it will look into putting on more trains, 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 50,509 confirmed cases

242 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 Tuesday.

This brings the total number of cases in Belgium, since the beginning of the pandemic, to 50,509. 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.

161 of the newly-infected people live in Flanders, 68 live in Wallonia, and 12 live in Brussels. The FPS does not yet have further information on the place of residence of 1 other person. Read more.

2. What Belgium’s National Security Council will discuss on Wednesday

Belgium’s National Security Council will meet again on Wednesday morning to discuss the next phase of the plan to gradually ease out of lockdown.

The next key stage, Phase 1B, of Belgium’s deconfinement strategy, as announced by the National Security Council, is expected to start on 11 May, when all stores will be allowed to reopen if the evolution of the curve allows it.

Following three days in a row of fewer than 100 new hospital admissions reported by the authorities, it is assumed that the next phase will go ahead as planned, same as Phase 1A did on Monday 4 May. However, other parameters, such as the number of patients in intensive care, and the number of doctor consultations for flu-like symptoms will also be taken into account. Read more.

3. One in five people infected with Covid-19 have no symptoms

One in five people infected with the coronavirus has no symptoms, according to a new study published on Monday.

A team of researchers from the University of Bonn has conducted an in-depth study of the sick identified in Gangelt, a municipality with about 11,000 inhabitants in the district of Heinsberg, western Germany.

The study, which is based on interviews and analysis of 919 people from 405 households, draws conclusions on the fatality rate of the infection. In Gangelt, some 15% of the population has been infected. The death rate among these patients has reached 0.37%. Read more.

4. Belgian mom takes cardboard car to McDonald’s drive-thru

A mother-daughter duo in the South of Belgium captured widespread attention for building a makeshift cardboard car to get a McDonald’s drive-thru meal despite the coronavirus lockdown.

On labour day, Nathalie Moermans and her 16-year-old daughter from the Walloon city of La Louvière were spotted inside their cardboard car queuing up in between other vehicles at the local McDonald’s drive-thru.

Not owning a car, the pair opted to build their own out of cardboard boxes in an attempt to get a meal from the fast-food chain, which Moermans said they were in habit of eating once per month. Read more.

5. How to use, remove and wash a face mask?

The use of a face mask is mandatory on public transport as of Monday and recommended in public places and in spaces where social distancing cannot be properly observed.

Dr Yves Van Laethem, an infectious disease expert who is replacing virologist Emmanuel André as the Francophone spokesperson for the coronavirus task force, also offered the public advice on how to wash reusable face masks.

“It is not obvious and we really need to talk about it and the best way to talk about it is by demonstrating,” Van Laethem said. Read more.

6. Belgians urged to keep track of their close contacts

Microbiologist Emmanuel André, one of the experts of the Group of Experts for the Exit Strategy (GEES), has called on people to keep track of the people they have been in close contact with from now on.

On Sunday night, André called on people to keep a kind of logbook “of people with whom you have close contact, including their telephone numbers” as of Monday, as it should make the work of contact tracers easier.

These tracers will work to trace the people who have been in contact with confirmed or suspected people infected with the coronavirus. The people identified by the contact tracers will be tested for the virus, and those who test positive will be quarantined for two weeks Read more.

7. Thalys to increase service again from 9 June

The French-Belgian high-speed train operator Thalys will start operating more trains again from 9 June.

Up until 8 June, Thalys will keep its minimal service, with one return journey between Brussels and Paris, and one return journey between Brussels and Amsterdam per day.

However, as of 9 June, more Thalys high-speed trains will be operated again. “We will operate around 20% of our offer then,” spokesperson Mattias Baertsoen told VRT. Read more.

Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times