The new stricter rules announced on Monday by the national security council come into force today, including the reduction of the number of people in the social bubble of a household from 15 to five.
However according to the ongoing corona-study being carried out fortnightly by the university of Antwerp, almost half of all those taking part already had a bubble made up of five people or fewer.
The study has been running since 17 March, ten days after the start of Belgium’s total lockdown, and has been repeated since then, first weekly and then more recently every two weeks.
Among the findings of the latest edition, the 15th, it was revealed that 48% of those responding had no need of the new restriction, because their social bubble, even under the more relaxed rules still in force until yesterday, was already no larger than five people.
Among the rest of the respondents, 12% said they had a problem with a limit of 15, and 3% admitted their bubble in practice was larger than that.
Under the new rule, each household can receive visits from only five people, and the relationship must be reciprocal – the people in your bubble must have you in their bubble. And the bubbles must remain unchanged for the next four weeks at least.
The new rule is considered necessary to stop the increase in new cases of Covid-19 infection, and goes even further that experts had requested at a previous meeting of the security council, when a limit of ten was tabled.
That idea was not accepted by the politicians at the meeting, who argued that cutting the limit down to ten would simply lead to people ignoring the rule altogether. Now that it is even stricter, that possibility seems even more likely.
However as far as half of the population is concerned, nothing will change on that front. Whether that has an effect on the growth of the epidemic will be seen in the days to come.
• While organised by the university of Antwerp and Professor Pierre Van Damme, the study is also supported by the universities of Leuven and Hasselt, as well as the Free University ULB in Brussels.
For the first edition, 560,000 people filled in the online questionnaire. In subsequent weeks, the original participants were encouraged to do the same again, always on a Thursday, and always between 10.00 and 22.00.
By the time of the 15th and latest edition, the numbers taking part had gone down to 27,500. The next edition will be on Thursday 5 August.