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    Belgium in Brief: Putting A Price On Health

    Credit: Belga/Creative Commons

    Another day, another meeting on Belgium’s deconfinement strategy. If the previous reporting holds true we hopefully won’t be waiting too long for the results, but let’s wait and see.

    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. There are also expectations that the meeting will provide some much sought after clarity on the social distancing timeline as Belgium begins to exit the current lockdown measures.

    Regardless, we’ll be here to give you the latest updates as soon as we know, so just watch this space.

    As we approach a new normal, or a phasing to a new normal, let’s take a look at the news from today. Cars lose ground on one of Brussels’ busiest roads, mask prices draw criticism 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. Belgium reaches 50,781 confirmed cases

    272 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 50,781. 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.

    179 of these new cases occurred in the general population, and 93 in the residential care centres. Read more.

    2. Face masks sold for €15 in Belgian train stations

    Packs of face masks sold in vending machines in Belgian train stations have drawn criticism after commuters pointed out they were being sold at €15 apiece.

    The packs popped up in place of the snacks and beverages usually sold in vending machines which were rebranded with large stickers reading ‘Safety Station’.

    The masks’ price has been justified by Selecta, the vending machine company, by the fact that they are high-quality reusable masks which can be used up to 500 times, a spokesperson for SCNB explained. Read more.

    3. Ombudsman urges PM to make face masks mandatory in airports

    Belgium’s National Security Council (NSC) must clearly state that the use of face masks is obligatory in all Belgian airports, the federal ombudsman for aviation said.

    In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès ahead of an NSC meeting, Federal Aviation Ombudsman Philippe Touwaide urged leaders to provide clarity on the rules to avoid airports deferring responsibility to commercial airlines.

    “I would like to advise you (…) to make wearing a face mask mandatory in all Belgian airports in the NSC meeting of Wednesday, 6 May,” Touwaide wrote, RTBF reports. “This obvious and logical measure will help to limit the spread of the virus.” Read more.

    4. 10 weird & wonderful questions from Belgium’s Coronavirus FAQ

    As part of the ongoing fight against the spread of the coronavirus in Belgium, a comprehensive frequently asked questions (FAQ) has been made available to the public.

    Covering topics ranging from the general (What can I do to protect myself and others?) to the practical (Will I get my mail?) – the list provides an up to date recap of the situation in the country at the moment.

    What it also provides, are answers to some questions the average citizen may not have considered. Read more.

    5. Exit plan: how contact tracing works

    From Monday 4 May, when the first phase out of Belgium’s lockdown started, the “corona detectives” started their work, but what does that mean, in practice?

    Pilot phases started in the three regions, despite some initial issues with the recruitment of the Flemish tracers. In total, Belgium will employ 2,000 tracers who will work in call centres, split up between the regions, with 200 set to be put to work on Brussels, 600 in Wallonia and 1,200 in Flanders.

    Contact tracing is an important part of the Belgian exit strategy to gradually lift the coronavirus lockdown measures. It is up to each Region how they decide to staff their call centres, but there will be a common digital platform, provided by the federal government. Read more.

    6. Brussels turns Rue de la Loi car lane into a cycle path

    Works to create more space for cyclists on the Rue de la Loi in Brussels started on Monday night, announced Brussels Minister for Mobility Elke Van den Brandt.

    The works are part of Van den Brandt’s exit strategy, which will roll out 40 km of cycle paths to encourage Brussels residents to cycle more, in an effort to unburden the public transport.

    The extra space for cyclists means that cars using the Rue de la Loi, one of the busiest roads in the capital, will have to make do with one lane less. Read more.

    7. Belgian prince says family member infected with coronavirus

    Belgium’s Prince Laurent has confirmed that somebody in his close family has tested positive for the coronavirus.

    “We do not know how, but the coronavirus has entered our household,” the prince said in an interview published on Wednesday in Le Soir Mag.

    Laurent did not wish to identify the family member who has been hit by the virus, saying only that hospitalisation had not been necessary and that they remained in their room until they recovered. Read more.

    Jules Johnston
    The Brussels Times