Belgium in Brief: Phasing Out Of Lockdown

Belgium in Brief: Phasing Out Of Lockdown
Credit: Belga

As the first phase to get out of Belgium's confinement measures started today and the number of hospital admissions has stayed below 100 for the second day in a row, it seems as if there will be an end to this lockdown after all.

Until then, here all the changes that the transition into Phase 1A brings with it, J.K. Rowling defending the Belgian Justice Minister, and -as always- the latest figures.

With so much information, and so little time to catch up before it potentially changes again, here are some of the top stories from around the country to get you up to speed.

Belgium in Brief is a free daily roundup of the top stories to get you through your lunch break conversations. To receive it straight to your inbox every day, sign up below:

1. Coronavirus: Belgium reaches 50,267 confirmed cases

361 new people have tested positive for the new coronavirus (Covid-19) in Belgium, confirmed the Federal Public Health Service during a press conference on Monday.

This brings the total number of cases in Belgium, since the beginning of the pandemic, to 50,267. The total reflects all people in Belgium who have been infected, and includes confirmed active cases as well as patients who have since recovered or died from the consequences of the virus.

228 of the newly-infected people live in Flanders, 98 live in Wallonia, and 32 live in Brussels. The FPS does not yet have further information on the place of residence of 3 other people. In total, 16,729 coronavirus tests have been taken in Belgium in the past 24 hours. Read more.

2. Lockdown: what changes from 4 May?

Belgium will begin progressively easing out of the coronavirus lockdown from Monday, with a number of confinement measures relaxed as some sectors and daily activities begin to sputter back to life.

From construction work and transportation to outdoor activities and childcare, new measures have been introduced while others have been relaxed — here is an overview of the changes as Belgium inches towards deconfinement. Read more.

3. Brussels pilots contact tracing team from Monday

Brussels’ 235 coronavirus contact tracers will begin a test run on Monday ahead of their real entry into functions to detect people at risk of contracting the coronavirus.

The team will be made up of 170 call centre workers plus a field-team of 65 people tasked with finding residents who could not be reached by phone.

Contact tracing is a central part of the country’s strategy to return to regular activities after the coronavirus pandemic, as hospital and contagion figures begin to decline. Read more.

4. Supermarkets can sell face masks as of Tuesday

Face masks can now be sold in Belgian supermarkets as of Tuesday. A ministerial order to that effect is due to be published shortly in the Belgian official gazette, according to VTM Nieuws.

“We have always said that it’s best for people to buy cloth and reusable masks,” commented the minister at the head of a dedicated coronavirus task force, Philippe De Backer. Surgical masks, for their part, can be sold in supermarkets from Tuesday. Read more.

5. JK Rowling steps up to defend minister Koen Geens

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series of children’s books, has taken the unusual step of defending Belgium’s deputy prime minister Koen Geens from ridicule, after Geens was filmed struggling to put on a face mask.

On Thursday he paid a visit to a sewing workshop organised by the Christian women’s organisation Ferm in Wijgmaal in Flemish Brabant. The Flemish public broadcaster VRT was present, and the cameras were rolling as Geens took one of the masks and tried with some difficulty to put it on, at one point wearing it over his eyes instead of his nose and mouth.

The video caused much mirth on social media, but Rowling stepped in, replying on Twitter, “I cannot in good conscience mock this man." Read more.

6. Eurostar makes face masks mandatory

Eurostar passengers will be required to wear face masks as a protective measure against the coronavirus, the company announced on Saturday.

“From 4 May, passengers must wear a face mask or face covering at our stations and on board, in line with guidelines announced by the French and Belgian governments,” Eurostar said on its website, adding that people without masks may be barred from travelling on trains, and could also be fined by the French or Belgian authorities.

Eurostar trains will continue crossing the English Channel, but they will be less frequent due to restrictions on movement, beefed-up controls and lower passenger demand, the company said. Read more.

7. Not wearing mask on public transport faces €250 fine

As the new phase of the deconfinement out of the lockdown measures started on Monday, people who do not wear face masks on public transport risk a €250 fine.

Wearing a face mask, or something else covering both mouth and nose such as a scarf or a bandana, is now mandatory on public transport and in the stations for everyone aged 12 and older.

“In the first instance, we want to help raise awareness about the measures,” STIB spokesperson An Van Hamme told The Brussels Times, adding that it is a possibility that not everyone is aware of the obligation. “But people who refuse to cover their mouth and nose risk a €250 fine,” she added. Read more.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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