As the Brussels-Capital Region tightened its coronavirus restrictions on the day after Belgium's new federal government surprised the country with stricter rules, this simplified Q&A should help you keep an overview.
Where will bars close?
From tomorrow, bars in all 19 municipalities of the Brussels-Capital Region will have to close.
The shutdown will come into force from 7:00 AM on 8 October and will also include cafes and the cafeterias of sports clubs, regardless of whether they serve alcohol or not, as well as party and event halls, in measures set to remain in place for at least a month.
In the rest of Belgium, bars can remain open, but they will have to close their doors at 11:00 PM, and tables can only seat groups of up to four people. If your household consists of more than four people, however, you can still sit together at one table.
Are restaurants still open? And does anything change?
The rules for restaurants, both in Brussels and the rest of Belgium, have not changed, meaning they can stay open. Their closing hour remains at 1:00 AM, and the maximum number of people at one table is still 10.
According to Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke, restaurants can organise the social distance between people better as guests stay at their table, which is why those rules remain the same. The same reasons were echoed by the Brussels authorities on Wednesday, when they announced the bar closures.
If a bar serves food, can it stay open?
No, the measures are in force for all businesses that are officially registered with the Federal Public Service Economy as a bar and not (also) an eatery. According to the cabinet of the Health Ministry, the distinction will be based on the main activity of the business.
For the Brussels-Capital Region, they all have to close. For the rest of the country, they can stay open until 11:00 PM.
What about sports clubs?
Both professional and amateur sports clubs are allowed to remain open across the country.
In the Brussels-Capital Region, however, their cafeterias have to follow the same measures as bars, and close their doors from Thursday 7:00 AM for one month.
Have mask rules changed?
No. It is still mandatory to wear a face mask when moving around in restaurants and cafés.
Outdoors, masks are still mandatory in crowded places and on public transport. For the Brussels-Capital Region, an overview of where masks are obligatory can be found here.
When is this over?
Both Brussels' and Belgium's new rules will remain in force for at least one month, after which the measures will be evaluated, according to Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. What happens after that will depend on how the course of the virus has evolved.
Is this likely to change again soon?
While it is unlikely that the Brussels' or country rules will change again before the month is up, De Croo said that the provincial governors have been instructed, in consultation with the Interior Minister, to take further measures if it proves necessary in their province.
Will this happen across Belgium?
After the nationwide measures were announced on Tuesday, Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said that he understands the rules are strict, but that they hopefully have to prevent another full lockdown.
This means that if these measures do not work, even stricter ones are a possibility.
Additionally, the 11:00 PM closing time for bars across the country was already implemented by the Capital Region at the end of September.
Will these new measures change anything?
According to virologist Marc Van Ranst, the new measures were really necessary. "Limiting social contacts to the family circle and the [measures] on the catering industry should have an impact," he said.
However, the impact of the new measures will not be palpable on the rising coronavirus figures immediately, he warned. "Don’t expect it within the first ten days, only later will we be able to see the effects of this."
Are the experts happy now?
After the previous announcement of measures, experts voiced their complaints about how this was "not the time" to start relaxing measures, and some even went on a "silent strike," refusing to speak to the media to explain the political decisions they did not agree with.
Calling these new rules "very necessary," Van Ranst said he was relieved that the strict measures are now in place, even saying that "it will be alright if we follow these strict measures."
Additionally, the decision to tighten the rules will buy the government some time pending the release of the coronavirus barometer, according to Van Ranst.
In an interview with VTM News, infectious disease expert Erika Vlieghe also stated that the figure of three close contacts people are still allowed to have (besides the people in their own households), was already suggested by the experts before the National Security Council of 23 September.
Are hospitals happy?
Several hospitals, especially in the Brussels area, have asked for stricter measures or for the people to respect the existing measures recently, as their beds for coronavirus patients were filling up.
Provided everyone follows the rules, the number of daily hospitalisations should start going down again. However, as Van Ranst said, the impact of the new rules will not be felt immediately.
How many people can I receive at home?
Households can only invite four guests at the same time. The four people do not have to close contacts, but then you will always have to keep a distance of 1.5 metres, and wear a face mask if that is not possible. The complete rules about receiving guests in your home can be found here.
Should I leave Brussels (on a trip/if I can)?
No measures were announced regarding restrictions of freedom of movement throughout the country. However, the authorities are advising to not commute unnecessarily and to always use common sense, respect the hygiene measures wherever you are, keep the necessary distance and wear a face mask when necessary.
Can I still travel?
People living in Belgium can still travel to other countries inside the EU. However, many destinations have now coloured orange or red, meaning that restrictions are in place for some areas, and travellers are required to quarantine and get tested (red zones) or will be asked to quarantine (orange zones) when back in Belgium.
Additionally, as the coronavirus figures in Belgium will continue to go up for some time, according to Van Ranst, it is possible that certain countries or areas will no longer allow travellers from Belgium to enter their country.
Can I rent a holiday home with a group of friends?
We are waiting for the Ministerial Decree to be published (on Friday) for a conclusive answer, according to Arne Brinckman, spokesperson for Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke.
Vandenbroucke himself, however, said on Flemish radio that he is counting on people's common sense. "Under one roof, you may not be more than four people, besides your family members," he said.
So, in principle, a family is allowed to rent a holiday home with four other people, friends or family. If it concerns people who are not your close contacts, however, you have to be able to keep your distance at all times. The same rules count as when receiving people in your home.
A non-organised activity in the open air is allowed with a maximum of 4 (children under the age of 12 not included). "Even if you are going somewhere during the autumn holidays, the rule applies that you are not allowed to hang around in groups of more than four, excluding children."
Maïthé Chini & Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times