Having started in the strictest red phase of its coronavirus barometer, the Consultative Committee has now decided that Belgium will move to 'code orange,' Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced during a press conference on Friday.
"We have looked at the health situation based on the barometer: daily hospital admissions and general intensive care occupancy rate," De Croo said. "In the past few days, there was already a consensus that we would go to code orange, so we will do that from next week."
From Friday 18 February, Belgium is moving to 'code orange' on its coronavirus barometer – meaning that rules for events, leisure activities and the hospitality industry will become more relaxed.
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In bars and restaurants, the closing hour will disappear, the number of people allowed at a table will no longer be limited to six and it will also be possible to have a drink at the bar again. Only staff will still have to wear a face mask.
The nightlife sector can reopen. For dynamic indoor events, 70% of a venue's capacity can be used. For all other events, 80% of a venue's maximum capacity is allowed to be used.
Additionally, teleworking will no longer be mandatory for four days per week, but will instead become strongly recommended. Teambuilding exercises and other events can also be organised again.
Shopping alone or in pairs will no longer be necessary either.
Children under 12 will no longer be required to wear a face mask anywhere, including at school.
"We must not forget that the last few months have been particularly difficult. The successive waves have not made it easy for us," said De Croo. "The Delta variant has put our healthcare sector under very heavy pressure, the Omicron variant especially hit the companies and the schools."
"We have made it through. The reproduction rate, which is now lower than 1, shows that the virus is spreading less rapidly. I want to thank all Belgians for their efforts, healthcare personnel in particular."
'Better spring is coming'
"Are we rid of Covid? No. We are taking huge steps towards a new normal, but the mistake we must not make is to believe that the virus is over. Every time we thought we had beaten it, it haunted us again and again," De Croo added.
Today, about daily 300 new hospitalisations are still registered every day. "It would be wrong for us to say we are now facing an ordinary seasonal flu today, but we have learned how to keep the virus in check."
"But a better spring is coming: we will be freer, it will be more relaxed and it will be more festive," he said. "But we must not forget the basic reflexes: we must continue to wear masks around vulnerable people, ventilate enclosed spaces well and do self-tests when in doubt."
For Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon, Belgium "has taken a good step" by deciding to go to code orange. "But we are not there yet. If we respect the current measures, hopefully, we can take the next step towards normal soon."
"It is not total freedom. There are still measures, and if we follow them properly, we can move to the next stage as quickly as possible: code yellow," he said. "That is almost back to normal. But then we have to keep up the current measures."
The members of the Consultative Committee "are optimistic" about the next phases of the pandemic, Walloon Minister-President Elio Di Rupo said. "At the beginning or the middle of March, we will be in the yellow phase."
Simplified travel rules
Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke explained that the travel rules will change as well. "Within Europe, there is a movement to look at how we have protected ourselves instead of where we come from. That means that we will no longer work with colour codes. We will no longer look at whether you are from a European country or not."
"If you have been vaccinated, have a recovery certificate or have recently tested negative, then you will not have to undergo additional testing," Vandenbroucke said. "This is important for people who come from the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan."
People who present a rapid antigen test have to make sure it was not taken more than 24 hours ago (instead of 36 hours previously). "Additionally, if you come here and you want to come in with a vaccination certificate, your basic vaccination cannot be more than 270 days ago. If you have been boosted, then it is unlimited."
"If you come from a non-EU country, then you can come in with a recovery certificate, a negative test or a vaccination certificate," he added. "Non-vaccinated coming from a non-EU country also are not allowed to come to Belgium as tourists. That is still only allowed for essential journeys."
"As long as we are in code orange, we will continue to use the Covid Safe Ticket within Belgium. If we go to code yellow, no more," Vandenbroucke said. "From the beginning of March, the screen will turn green for adults only if they have been boostered. Unless their basic vaccination is recent, (not older than five months)."
The next Consultative Committee is expected to take place at the beginning of March, when De Croo hopes the country can move to 'code yellow'. No date has been fixed.