A round-up of news stories on the coronavirus epidemic that didn’t make the headlines.
• Police in Brussels and in part of Limburg province have deployed drones to help enforce the curfew regulation banning gatherings of more than two people.
The regulation is intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus infection by enforcing social distancing – keeping a minimum distance of 1.5m between two people. That would be harder to observe with more than two people, so groups are not allowed to gather, other than groups of family members who already live under one roof.
“Groups of youths hanging about remain a problem for our police zones,” said Marc De Mesmaeker, commissioner-general of the federal police.
• Belgium’s prison authorities have been overwhelmed by offers of sewing machines after an appeal to allow prisoners to make face-masks for medical personnel. “We received 148 offers by email and telephone,” said spokesperson Kathleen Van De Vijver. “We’re deeply touched by so many responses and so much understanding.”
• Belgium’s banks are investigating the possibility of increasing the maximum amount that can be paid by contact-free electronic payment, so as to reduce physical contact between customers and electronic payment terminals. At present the limit for payments without a PIN code is €25 per transaction, with a total of €50 in a day. The limits were introduced to prevent major losses if a customer had their card stolen or lost it.
• Brussels opera house La Monnaie is offering free online streaming of seven opera performances between now and 19 April, director Peter De Caluwé announced. Details here.
• Left-wing Flemish party PVDA has called on the government to suspend the need for medical certificates to excuse absence from work as long as the crisis lasts. Party MP Sofie Merckx said the process takes up doctors’ valuable time and energy, and recommended the Swedish model, where only absences lasting longer than 14 days have to be certified.
• The port of Antwerp is receiving more shipments of cargo of fresh fruit and vegetables, according to Lennart Verstappen of the port authority. “Fresh bananas are popular right now. Demand goes up, and so imports go up with it. The transport sector is responding well to demand.” At present the port is functioning normally, but the authority knows that 15 container ships fewer than normal are on their way from China – the equivalent of a full month of traffic from that country.
• Male members of the Brussels fire service have been ordered to shave off beards to ensure their face-masks fit properly, according to an internal instruction reported by Bruzz. Active operational members of the corps are now obliged to wear a mask at all times, and not only when there is a risk of infection, as was the case until now.