Anyone who is in a travel destination when it is classed as a high-risk (or red) zone can avoid a mandatory coronavirus test and quarantine if they return to Belgium within 48 hours of the change.
“A 48-hour delay will be given to travellers when a destination goes from orange to red, to allow them, if they wish, to return to Belgium under the conditions applied to orange zones,” Foreign Affairs Minister Philippe Goffin said.
“It can indeed happen that one destination goes from orange to red on a Wednesday,” Goffin said in an interview. “In that case, after 48 hours, meaning after Friday, quarantine and testing upon return will be obligatory.”
The grace period, a foreign affairs spokesman said, will grant residents a window of opportunity to avoid a mandatory quarantine they were not counting on having to do upon their return. “If they make it back 48 hours of the announcement, the testing and quarantine are not mandatory. But we always recommend it, of course,” Karl Lagatie, ministry spokesperson, told The Brussels Times.
While the measure had been implemented already last week, several residents who were impacted by an orange-to-red change reported being subject to different regulations upon their return.
A Belgian resident identified as Vincent in an RTBF interview said that he was in the south-eastern French region of Hérault when he learned that the area had been marked red by Belgian authorities.
Upon arriving in Belgium, Vincent said that, despite hearing of the 48-hour window of opportunity, he still received an SMS telling him that he needed to get tested and quarantine.
“We called the coronavirus hotline to know whether the text message had been sent automatically or whether we really did have to quarantine,” he said. “And, on the phone, we were told that the famed 48-hour period did not exist.”
Another Belgian tourist, identified as Isabelle, said that when they learnt that when the destination they were in was classed as red, they rushed back to return to the country earlier, but were still told they needed to quarantine and get tested.
“One time they say one thing and the next time they say another — they don’t know on which foot they are standing which means neither do we,” she said.
Residents’ complaints about the confusion upon their return reached Goffin, who on Monday admitted that a communication issue could be to blame and doubled down on communicating the measure in several statements.
“It is possible that the information was not passed on correctly but now it is clear and accessible to everybody, and this 48-hour delay is fully in application,” he said.
The application of the 48-hour window also coincides with news that the ministry’s travel advice updates will now be done on Wednesday instead of Friday, in order to give travellers time to organise a last-minute weekend return.