Belgium is once again imposing strict lockdown measures in the face of rising coronavirus infections, hospital admissions and deaths, announced Prime Minister Alexander De Croo during a press conference on Friday.
“Our country is in a state of sanitary emergency. The pressure is immense, as you have undoubtedly seen in recent days,” said De Croo. “At the moment, there is only one choice, and that is for all of us to support our healthcare sector as much as we can. We have to limit our physical contacts as much as possible.”
“We are going back into a strict lockdown, which has only one purpose: to ensure that our healthcare system does not collapse,” De Croo said.
These measures are Belgium’s “last chance,” he added. They will take effect on Sunday night, and will remain in force until 13 December. They will be evaluated on 1 December.
Receiving visitors at home is no longer allowed, with the exception of one ‘cuddle contact’. People who live alone are allowed to have two contacts.
Outdoors, gatherings can still take place with a maximum of four people, while respecting the social distance and wearing face masks.
Non-essential shops will be closed, but pick-ups or home deliveries of products ordered in advance remain possible.
Non-medical professions requiring close contact, such as hairdressers and estheticians, will be shut down.
For education, the autumn holidays will be extended even further for the whole country: schools will remain closed until 15 November.
For primary schools, all pupils will have to go back to class after that.
For secondary schools, the pupils of the first grade will also have to return to class. For the second and third grades, only 50% of pupils will be allowed to go to class. The other 50% will have to follow distance education.
Higher education will switch to distance learning until the end of the year. For first years, however, some form of contact learning will be possible again from 1 December.
Teleworking will be made mandatory. If that is not possible, face masks and social distance are obligatory.
The measures which saw bars and restaurants closed will be expanded to include those in hotels too. The hotels themselves can remain open, but any food can only be served in the room.
At funerals, a maximum of 15 people are allowed. Gatherings afterwards are no longer possible.
Holiday parks must close from 3 November, but restaurants and swimming pools were closed already.
The curfew measures already in force remain the same: from midnight to 5:00 AM in Flanders, and from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM in Wallonia and the Brussels-Capital Region.
“We know that the virus has a heavy economic cost. Many people have to stop their activities again. Know that the government will do everything it can to support you,” said De Croo. “This is a moment of solidarity, and of care for people who are struggling. We will overcome this if we support each other and if we maintain solidarity over the next four or six weeks.”
“These measures will bring our social life to a standstill in the coming weeks,” said Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke. “That is hard, that is a lockdown. But one in which businesses continue to operate, we open schools again after 15 November and we avoid people going into total isolation.”
“If the figures continue to rise at this rate, it is simple: there will come a time when the doors of our intensive care will close,” Vandenbroucke said. “At that point, healthcare professionals will have to make choices that they do not want to make. Please, let us take care of each other.”