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11 May: The ‘new normal’ cheat sheet

As of Monday, shops throughout Belgium are allowed to reopen again, as the country begins to relax certain aspects of the current lockdown.

In light of the change – and the often confusing information – here is a cheat sheet for the rules you should be following if you set out into the world, and what has opened.

Expect a wait: Across Belgium, news and social media have shown massive lines to get into stores across the country, including Primark and Ikea

Keep distant: Access to shops will be limited to a maximum of one customer per 10m² of retail space. Certain stores have marked out areas to line up while following rules, so stick to that.

Keep safe: A safe working environment must be guaranteed for workers, and for shoppers. 

Keep to time limits: Customers are allowed to stay in a store for a maximum of 30 minutes per store

Location & Priority: Belgian PM Sophie Wilmès called for only shopping in your own neighbourhood. “If it is crowded in a shop, go back home. Priority should be given to care workers, the elderly and the less mobile.”

Masks: The Belgian public transport companies De Lijn, STIB and SNCB have strictly enforced the wearing of face masks from 4 May at risk of a fine. Shops continue to advise the wearing of masks, while Etterbeek and Woluwe shopping streets have made the wearing mandatory.

No Touching: Businesses that involve close contact – like hairdressers – stay shut. 

No Touching (2): Customers are advised not to touch something they do not intend to buy, according to advice posted on Brussels shopping streets

Recycle: Masks are not recyclable, and should be put in with standard waste.

Shop alone: Unless you have to accompany a child, or someone who requires assistance, you should be shopping alone. Big items – like a new bathroom, a couch or a car – require an appointment. 

Shopping Centres: On top of the rules, the reopening of shopping centres has its own special rules. See them here.

Street Eats: Foodtrucks can return to work, outdoor markets can’t. Individual food stalls can be reviewed on a case by case basis, at the discretion of local mayors.  

Travel: While Brussels public transport operator STIB was due to increase services today to account for increased movement, an unplanned strike has caused issues with bus and tram services.

 

These measures – as well as any involving increased social distancing, and the 4 person expansion of social circles, rely upon the people of Belgium to follow the rules. The government counts on people’s sense of responsibility and common sense, as it will become increasingly difficult for the police to check if people are respecting the measures, the more they will be relaxed, Wilmès said during the launch of the latest measures. 

The figures in Belgium are evolving favourably, according to Wilmés. Testing and tracing are crucial in the next phase of the lockdown. Belgium is “among the best in Europe in terms of the number of tests per inhabitant,” she said.

No decision has been made regarding the next phase, that is set to start from 18 May, such as the reopening of hairdressers.

The National Security Council is now preparing Phase 2, which can start from 18 May, if all the criteria are met. “Together with the experts, we are looking into what is possible for the museums, libraries, zoos and other places. We are also investigating whether hairdressers and beauty centres can be reopened, and whether more people can be allowed at weddings and funerals,” she said.

Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times