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How Belgium’s ‘phase 4’ is different from a lockdown

Credit: Belga/Jules Johnston

On Friday evening, Belgium announced ‘Phase 4’ – meaning strict measures such as bar closures, only one close contact per person, and a curfew – but stopped short of calling it a lockdown.

Several of Belgium’s new measures, such as the shutdown of bars and restaurants, the ban on selling alcohol after 8:00 PM and the obligation to telework where possible, overlap strongly with those introduced as a “partial lockdown” by the Netherlands earlier this week.

However, despite going one step further than the Dutch approach by also imposing a curfew between midnight and 5:00 AM, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo did not speak of a (partial) lockdown.

The essence of a lockdown is that people stay at home, and only go outside for essential reasons, according to virologist and interfederal Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht, who disagrees with the Dutch word choice.

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Belgium’s measures are in place “precisely to avoid another lockdown like the one in March,” he told The Brussels Times. “In that case, you can only leave your house if you have an essential profession, if you need groceries, or if you need medical care,” he said.

However, neither Belgium nor the Netherlands has issued such a stay-at-home order. “The shops, for example, are still open. Leaving the house to go shopping for clothes is definitely not an essential journey,” Van Gucht said.

A lockdown would be “the ultimate emergency solution,” he said, adding that it is a scenario that Belgium wants to avoid.

“In the end, [a lockdown] is a failure of the recommendation of restricting people’s contacts,” Van Gucht said. “If that system fails, a lockdown is the only thing left.”

While no further information about the different phases has been given during the press conference, Phase 4 reportedly corresponds to the second-to-last alert level on Belgium’s coming “coronavirus barometer,” according to Het Nieuwsblad. The barometer was expected to be launched together with the new measures on Friday, but it was not fully ready yet, the ministers said.

A full overview of all measures can be found here.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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