While a lot of coronavirus news has been focused internally – as Belgium deals, reacts and plans for new measures – the activities of its neighbours have become noticeable, as they tighten restrictions while Belgium relaxes.
On Wednesday 23 September, Belgium’s National Security Council decided to abolish the concept of the “bubble of five” to limit people’s social contacts. Every person – not household – is now allowed to have five close contacts, and see everyone they want, if they keep their distance.
On top of that, professionally organised gatherings no longer have a maximum number of guests, the mandatory quarantine period has been shortened, people returning from orange zones will no longer be asked to get tested, and face masks rules will be relaxed from October.
In sharp contrast to Belgium’s relaxations, however, all its neighbouring countries have introduced (or are planning on introducing) stricter measures to halt the rising figures of coronavirus infections and hospitalisations.
Following a few days with record highs in the number of new coronavirus cases in the Netherlands, Minister-President Mark Rutte announced extra restrictions for the whole country late on Monday evening, set to take effect on Tuesday evening.
“Before the weekend, we thought that the stricter measures would only be needed in large cities,” Rutte said at the start of the press conference. “But the number of infections is rising so rapidly that we are in danger of trying to keep up with the virus with a map that is becoming increasingly red.”
One of the most important measures that the Netherlands took is that bars and restaurants are no longer allowed to let clients in from 9:00 PM, and have to be empty by 10:00 PM.
Additionally, people are only allowed to receive three guests in their homes, teleworking where possible becomes the norm again, and groups may not be larger than 30 people when indoors and 40 when outdoors.
During the next three weeks, all sports competitions will take place without spectators, and in large cities such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, the authorities strongly advise people to wear face masks in shops.
On top of that, the Netherlands has advised its citizens against all non-essential travel to Belgium.
In France, more than 10,000 new confirmed cases per day were reported last week, with a peak of almost 16,000 cases on Friday, according to official figures.
Last Wednesday – on the same day as Belgium relaxed its measures – the French authorities classified the country’s departments into five categories, going from ‘green’ to ‘health emergency’, with measures corresponding to each category.
France then placed the areas of Paris, Lille, Toulouse, Saint-Etienne, Rennes, Rouen, Grenoble, Montpellier, Bordeaux, Lyon and Nice in the third category, ‘enhanced alert’, and announced a closing hour of 10:00 PM, and total closure of festivity halls.
The number of attendees allowed at large gatherings in these areas had already been reduced to a maximum of 1,000 this weekend, and a ban was imposed on large events, such as local festivals and student parties.
Sports halls and fitness centres also had to close their doors, and gatherings of more than ten people in public places are no longer allowed.
The French government is currently investigating 1,246 coronavirus clusters, and 60 of the more than 100 French departments are now in an ‘increased state of vulnerability’.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesperson called the evolution of the epidemic in the country “very worrying” and called on everyone to continue to follow the rules on face masks, quarantine and basic hygiene “so that we can save our country some measures in autumn and winter.”
Across the country, over 2,000 new infections were reported yesterday, according to figures from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), bringing the total number of infections to 287,421.
Over the last seven days, Germany recorded an incidence rate of 14 confirmed infections per 100,000 inhabitants. A total of 11 people have died in the last 24 hours as a result of the coronavirus, bringing the number of deaths to 9,471 in Germany.
Over the course of Tuesday, however, Merkel is consulting with the different states to tighten the rules, as she fears 19,200 new infections will be recorded per day by Christmas if the current trend continues, reports RTL.
She plans on taking “far-reaching measures” for the worst affected regions. According to German press agency DPA, one of the proposals on the table is reducing the number of attendees at indoor meetings to 25 people, and outdoor meetings to 50, as well as to restrict the sale of alcohol.
It is not yet clear whether the new rules will apply to the whole of Germany or only to those areas where there are relatively high levels of contamination.
In the United Kingdom, the number of cases has also risen sharply over the past days, with 4,044 new infections recorded on Monday, bringing the total to 439,013 across the country.
Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new measures, which he said would probably remain in place for the next six months.
The measures include the closing of pubs, bars and restaurants to close at 10:00 PM, they are restricted to table service only, and staff and non-seated customers have to wear a face mask at all times.
Additionally, people should work from home wherever possible, and the maximum number of guests allowed at weddings has been reduced from 30 to 15.
Additionally, the plans to allow fans to return to sporting events have been paused for the time being.
On top of that, Health Secretary Matt Hancock tightened restrictions even more in north-east England on Monday evening, and announced that mixing between households in any indoor setting (such as pubs or restaurants) will be illegal from Wednesday.
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced new restrictions to curb the rise in new cases on Tuesday 22 September, which went into force from the day after.
The restrictions imposed a 10:00 PM curfew on pubs, restaurants and all hospitality settings, and a ban on meeting inside people’s homes.
However, up to six people from two different households can still meet in outdoor spaces, such as gardens, children under 12 not included.
Young people aged 12 to 18 are exempt from the two-household limit and can meet outdoors in groups of up to six, if they keep sufficient distance.
Additionally, she urged people not to book foreign trips during the October holiday.
First Minister Arlene Foster announced on 21 September that households were no longer allowed to mix, and that no more than six people from two households can meet in a garden.
Foster also stressed that the restrictions were “not a return to lockdown,” but that “doing nothing” was “not an option.”
In Wales, too, First Minister Mark Drakeford announced a 10:00 PM closing hour for pubs, cafes and restaurants. Additionally, the sale of alcohol from off-licences and supermarkets is no longer allowed after 10:00 PM either.
The Brussels Times