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Last step of Belgium’s summer plan: what changes today?

Credit: Belga/Pexels

This year, 1 September not only marks the start of a new school year, but it is also the date on which a lot of Belgium’s remaining coronavirus restrictions are lifted or relaxed.

Ranging from the hospitality sector to teleworking to mass events, here’s an overview of the changes announced by the Consultative Committee on 20 August, as published in the Ministerial Decree.

Local authorities, however, can still take stricter measures on their own territory should the epidemiological situation require it.

The new or altered rules come into force today and just like the already-existing measures, will apply until 31 October 2021.

Hospitality industry

The opening or closing hour for bars, restaurants and all other businesses in the hospitality industry is lifted. The same goes for the final hour for delivery services.

The cap on the maximum number of people per table will also be lifted, as will the obligation to remain seated, meaning people will again be allowed to go up to the bar to make an order.

Lastly, the minimum distance of 1.5m between tables is no longer required, and all restrictions for terraces and noise levels are lifted.

Night shops can also open again during their usual times in Flanders and Wallonia, while Brussels sticks to the 1:00 AM closing hour for now.

However, these relaxations only apply in Flanders and Wallonia, as the Brussels-Capital Region announced that will not follow the other two regions and is instead extending its existing, stricter measures for the sector until the end of September.

Regardless, wearing a face mask when moving around in a hospitality environment (when going to use the toilet, for example) remains mandatory across the whole country.

Additionally, from 1 October, nightclubs will be allowed to reopen as well, taking into account tightened sector protocols for air quality, ventilation and maximum capacity depending on the space.

Culture, events, performances and congresses

From 1 September, events with fewer than 200 people indoors and fewer than 400 people outdoors can take place without any restrictions, such as face masks or social distancing.

Any restrictions on specific closing hours are lifted.

From 1 October, both indoor and outdoor capacity will increase, and events with fewer than 500 people indoors and fewer than 750 people outdoors, will no longer require such measures either.

In case more people are attending a certain event, the rules for the hospitality industry and the specific rules per sector (cultural, recreative, sports) should be adhered to. Additionally, permission to organise the event should be requested from the local authority beforehand.

The possibility to exceed the limit of a maximum of 3,000 spectators indoors and 5,000 outdoors if the crowd is restricted to certain compartments (as is already possible in football stadiums, for example) will now be applied for all types of events.

Larger events

From 1 September, events with more than 200 people indoors and more than 400 people outdoors can take place without any restrictions, such as face masks or social distancing, if the organisers require a Covid Safe Ticket from all attendees.

From 1 October, these numbers will increase, and events with more than 500 people indoors and more than 750 people outdoors will no longer require such measures either provided the Covid Safe Ticket is used.

Social activities

All restrictions still in force for gatherings inside people’s homes (or in small tourist accommodations) are lifted.

Private gatherings, including in people’s gardens, can now take place without any restrictions such as face masks, social distancing or when professional catering services are present.

Until 30 September, these gatherings can take place with a maximum of 200 people indoors and 400 people outdoors. From 1 October, these numbers will increase to 500 people indoors and 750 people outdoors.

Dancing at private parties, such as at a wedding, will be again be allowed, both indoors and outdoors.

For weddings, funerals, cremations and worship services, all restrictions are lifted except for the face mask obligation.

All organised activities, such as activities of (youth) groups or associations, will no longer have any restrictions.

Face masks and social distancing

Face masks still have to be worn when it is impossible to respect the social distance in places where it is required (such as at events that do not require the Covid Safe Ticket), as well as on public transport and in stores, among others, as they remain “important tools in the fight against the virus.”

From 1 September, however, the obligation to wear a mask will be lifted in publicly-accessible spaces of companies or associations, during private gatherings and at the above-mentioned small events.

Additionally, respecting the social distance remains an “individual obligation for each citizen.”

Teleworking

The federal “strong recommendation” to telework instead of being physically present in the workplace is now lifted, but the Brussels-Capital Region is still advising its residents to work from home, for the time being.

Travel

While awaiting the completion of the European Commission’s process for the recognition of vaccination certificates from non-EU countries, certificates from those countries will also be accepted if they contain a set of minimum data.

Those certificates must at least state the following information in Dutch, French, German or English:

–  identification of the person who has been vaccinated (surname, forename, date of birth and/or ID number)
–  confirmation that all the doses referred to in the leaflet have been administered for at least two weeks with a vaccine approved in Belgium, the brand name and the name of the manufacturer or the marketing authorisation holder of each vaccine that was administered
–  the date of administration of each dose of the vaccine;
–  the name of the country where the vaccine was administered;
–  the issuer of the certificate of vaccination with their signature, stamp or digitally-readable unique certificate identification code.

This way, it will be possible to prove that a person has been fully vaccinated with a vaccine approved by Belgium (Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Covishield) and can therefore be admitted to the territory.

As of today, some other non-Covid related changes are also coming into force. What else is new in Belgium from 1 September can be found here.