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    Belgium in Brief: Grass Grows Green on Grand Place

    It’s Friday, it’s a long weekend, and quite frankly we all need a break.  So we’re going to talk about the city and the relevance of a relatively minor change.

    While Welsh villages are being reclaimed by sheep and Glasgow highstreets visited by deer, nature is having its own moment in Brussels – Grand Place has grass.

    On the face of it, a few blades on the square seems minor, but considering Grand Place is one of the most visited spots in the city when tourism is up and running this ecological reclamation is still quite astounding.

    Shopping streets are heaving, hairdressers booked up, zoos and museums full to the brim, but a testament to the major tourism side of this city lies deserted and there is still no clear indication of when that will change.

    So what’s the other news of the day? We look at the latest figures, explain how the relaxation of visits on Mother’s day could impact this weekend, and police explain why their job is so hard at the moment.

    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.

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    1. 276 new cases and the downward trends continue

    276 additional people have tested positive for the new coronavirus (Covid-19) in Belgium in the last 24 hours, confirmed the federal public health ministry on Friday.

    This brings the total number of cases in Belgium since the beginning of the pandemic to 56,511. 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.

    175 of the newly-infected people live in Flanders, 69 live in Wallonia, and 30 live in Brussels. No information was available on the place of residence of two new cases. Read more.

    2. Latest figures could signal a Mother’s Day bump in virus

    The official coronavirus figures published each day by the government health institute Sciensano will this week give a picture of the effect on the epidemic of the first major relaxation of the lockdown since it was started in mid-March.

    According to biostatistician Niel Hens of the universities of Hasselt and Antwerp the numbers of new infections and hospital admissions this weekend will reflect what was going on two weeks ago, when home visits were allowed for the first time, to coincide with Mother’s Day.

    The day after that, the shops opened up again, and a number of other measures were taken to relax the lockdown partially. Read More.

    3. Lockdown: a ‘constant game’ between police and citizens in Brussels

    As the relaxed measures in Phase 2 of Belgium’s deconfinement plan allow an increasing number of reasons to go out, the Brussels police have a harder time making sure people are following them.

    “If we get a call that the ban on gatherings is not being respected, we go and intervene. Then, the situation temporarily improves, people get too close to each other again after a while, regardless,” Olivier Slosse, spokesperson for the Brussels Capital-Ixelles police zone, told The Brussels Times. “We have to remind people of the rules. Constantly,” he added. Read more.

    4. Grand Place Grows Grass: Photos of Lockdown

    After over 2 months of lockdown, Brussels is a city of contrast.

    The latest easing of measures has seen parts of the city reopen, as shopping districts are flooded by mask-wearing locals, cafes begin to operate out their doors and lines outside of stores become the new norm

    The other side of the city, tourism, continues to be quiet. Grand Place lies mostly empty as the grass begins to grow, train stations lie quiet, the bars closed, and restaurants more frequented by tourists than locals don’t open their doors.

    Taken around the start of Belgium’s Phase 2, here are some photos of how the city is adapting to a new normal.

    5. Long lockdown weekend activities sheet

    Starting with the Ascension holiday on Thursday, Belgium is entering into a long weekend under lockdown. 

    While no true excursions are permitted until further notice, the latest measures mean that some cultural visits are permitted, as well as some personal activities. It is worth noting, however, that while some rules have been relaxed, those still in place have no room for bending. 

    So, here’s what you can do and what to look out for.

    6. Uber pulls Jump bikes from Brussels streets

    After reports of it laying off all its employees at the end of last week, Uber Jump bikes are now disappearing from the streets of Brussels, according to reports and competitors.

    The decision by Uber’s shared bicycle company comes amid the capital’s rising interest in alternative mobility. Indeed, with the coronavirus health crisis, many users are avoiding public transport. Plus, the Brussels Region recently opened 40 km of extra cycling paths. Read more.

    7. Brussels’ air quality improved significantly during lockdown

    Brussels’ air quality improved after a month and a half of lockdown, according to reports from Brussels Environment presented Friday by the cabinet of Regional Minister Alain Maron.

    In places with heavy traffic, nitrogen monoxide (NO) decreased by 75% and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) by 50%. Even at stations with less exposure, the concentration of NO has decreased by 30% and that of NO2 by 40%. Read More.

    Jules Johnston
    The Brussels Times