Less than a month after Belgium officially relaxed some coronavirus fighting measures, the country is entering a four-week period with new measures - or the "Easter pause" as Prime Minister Alexander De Croo called it during a press conference on Wednesday.
The measures - which will revert Belgium to more strict rules - will apply from Saturday 27 March, and will remain in place for at least four weeks.
“This was a difficult decision to make, but I am convinced that any other decision would be even more difficult,” De Croo told the press conference after the emergency Consultative Committee meeting. “But in our hospitals, people are starting to postpone more and more necessary care. Nobody wants that.”
Here's what you need to know:
Non-medical contact professions closed: From Saturday, hairdressers and beauty salons will have to close again, despite De Croo saying they would remain open when they restarted in mid-February. These also include nail salons, massage parlours and tattoo and piercing parlours.
Non-essential shops have new rules: They can only receive clients by appointment. The number of customers allowed in at the same time depends on the size of the shop, but the maximum is 50 people. Two people from the same household may enter the shop together.
Essential shops: food shops, pharmacies, those for hygiene products, clothing fabrics, flowers and plants, telecom shops, newspaper and book shops can continue to receive customers without an appointment.
Home deliveries and click-and-collect services: are still possible provided there is no physical contact and the person does not enter the shop.
Outdoor "bubbles" shrink: A group of a maximum of four people will be allowed to meet outdoors, and no longer in the so-called “outdoor bubble” of ten people. This excludes children up to 12 years old, and families larger than four may, of course, meet outdoors together.
Close contacts: One close contact is still allowed outside of people's households. There was no mention made of the rules around the additional person allowed in certain circumstances.
Teleworking remains compulsory: There will be “additional controls and stricter penalties” for companies who do not follow the rule. Employers must keep a register of who will be present at the workplace and when. Public administrations will also have to adhere to telework rules.
Ban on non-essential travel stays: This will remain in force over the Easter holidays, after which it is set to lift. “This is not the time to travel abroad. Additionally, we will increase the controls at the borders during the Easter holidays,” De Croo said.
Curfew rules have not changed: Currently, the measure is in force between midnight and 5:00 AM in Flanders and Wallonia, and from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM in the Brussels-Capital Region.
Non-essential journeys within Belgium are still allowed: As already expected.
Schools close: From Monday, all classes in primary, secondary schools, and higher education will be suspended. For pupils in secondary schools, exams can still go ahead under certain conditions during the week before the Easter holidays. Schools are still expected to fully re-open again from 19 April.
Kindergartens can remain open.
Youth camps and extra-curricular activities: These will remain possible for schoolchildren, but only during the Easter holidays, in limited groups of no more than 10 young people and without an overnight stay, as mentioned during the previous Consultative Committee.
Demonstrations: The number of participants for static demonstrations on public roads has been limited to a maximum of 50 people.
Relaxations made on 5 March: No changes were announced to the relaxations to allow 50 people at a funeral, and zoos will remain open in Belgium.
“I fully realise that this is a blow to many people. People had hoped that we could put these restrictions behind us,” said Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon. “These are strong measures, but they are limited in time,” he said. “From now until 25 April, we have no choice but to make that effort again.”
The next meeting of the committee has not been scheduled at this time, and it is not clear if there will be a meeting to evaluate measures during the coming weeks.
Jules Johnston & Lauren Walker
The Brussels Times