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Belgium in Brief: The Borders Reopen

Credit: Belga/(CC BY 4.0)

It feels like we say this a lot, but once again today marks a significant change in Belgium – and Europe – with regards to coronavirus policy, as borders begin to reopen within Europe. 

While unrestricted travel to some countries is now allowed, several others  – including the United Kingdom – are welcoming Belgian travellers under some conditions, such as a mandatory quarantine.

For the time being, however, non-essential travel outside of the EU and the Schengen zone remains banned. 

Today we recap the latest figures, explain the situation with Belgium’s government, and report on the latest statue vandalism.

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. Coronavirus possibly caused a million deaths in 1890, says Marc Van Ranst

It is possible that the world experienced a deadly coronavirus epidemic 130 years ago as well, according to Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst.

Many physicians, as well as the population, talked about the “Russian flu,” as the rumours about the disease that spread across the continent in 1889-1890, came from the east. It did not have an official name, but was mainly recorded as “influenza” by doctors, meaning they believed it to be a simple flu virus.

People who were infected got severely ill, according to Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst. “With a lot of symptoms that were totally atypical for a flu,” he explained. Read More.

2. Belgians can travel within Europe again 

Belgian residents can travel within Europe as of Monday, as several countries begin to reopen their borders after months of lockdown.

France, Italy, Liechtenstein, Poland or Switzerland are among some of the countries to which residents of Belgium are allowed to travel without any apparent restrictions or mandatory conditions, according to the ministry of foreign affairs.

Sweden, as well as Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are also welcoming Belgian residents. Read More.

3. 71 new infections, 17 hospital admissions in Belgium

71 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 Monday.

This brings the total number of confirmed cases in Belgium, since the beginning of the pandemic, to 60,100. 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.

38 of the newly-infected people live in Flanders, 18 live in Wallonia, and 15 live in Brussels. Read more.

4. Where (and when) can you get a face mask now?

The distribution of the face masks ordered by the federal government will begin from Monday in pharmacies across Belgium in stages according to age groups.

A total of 18 million face masks were ordered, 15 million of which arrived with a significant delay and which were hit with accusations that they did not meet safety standards, which officials denied.

Federal officials tasked the country’s roughly 4,800 pharmacies with the distribution, which will be carried out over 10 days from Monday. Read More.

5. Paedophile priest found free in Switzerland after conviction in Belgium

A Swiss priest found guilty of abusing a minor in Belgium has been arrested in Switzerland, where he was living free despite being sentenced to prison in 2017.

The Brussels Court of Appeal sentenced Frédéric Abbet to three years’ imprisonment after finding him guilty of sexually abusing a nine-year-old boy in a Brussels boarding school between 2010 and 2011. Read more.

6. ‘Crook’: Julius Caesar statue vandalized in Flanders

The vandalism of several statues in Flanders has left locals questioning the motivations of the damage, after a statue of Julius Caesar – not Leopold II – was defaced over the weekend. 

The statue of Caesar in Velzeke, in Zottegem (East Flanders), was damaged during the night of Saturday to Sunday, with the word ‘krapuul’ (crook) scrawled on the base of the statue. The spear that Caesar held in one hand was also torn off. Read More.

7. Wilmès faces Belgium’s government formation puzzle

It’s up to Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès to see what she can do to form a federal government, according to Flemish Christian-Democrat party chairman Joachim Coens. 

Wilmès’ caretaker government was granted special powers in March to allow it to manage the new coronavirus crisis. Those powers, however, expire at the end of June. Read More.

Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times

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