Belgium gave the official go-ahead for the announced relaxations from 9 June and introduced the latest travel rules, announced Prime Minister Alexander De Croo during a press conference on Friday.
“Today, the Consultative Committee mainly looked ahead, towards a summer of which we have already had a taste in the past few days, thanks to the better weather,” De Croo said.
“The fact that we can look forward with fewer worries is because we have all behaved safely in recent weeks, but also because of the vaccination campaign,” he said. “This was truly a collective effort.”
“The figures show this positive development,” De Croo said. “That is why we have decided to continue with the first stage of the summer plan.”
From Wednesday 9 June, bars, restaurants and all other businesses in the hospitality industry will be allowed to also open their indoor areas to clients.
Both the indoor areas and the terraces can already open as early as 5:00 AM, and can stay open until 11:30 PM. The current rules will continue to apply: a maximum of four people at a table (unless your household is bigger), with tables 1.5 metres apart.
“The main focus of this meeting, however, was on travel,” De Croo.
The rule remains that people returning from a green or orange zone do not have to undergo a quarantine period. “This was already the case today, and this stays the same.”
From 1 July, travelling to and from red zones will be possible with the European Digital Covid Certificate for travel within the EU. “If you are a Belgian resident and you return from a red zone (in the EU), you can do so with that certificate without further obligations,” he said.
“The condition is that you have been fully vaccinated for at least two weeks (two shots, except with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine), or that you can present a negative PCR test or a recovery certificate,” De Croo said.
Those who have not been fully vaccinated for at least two weeks will still have to get a PCR test, starting from children aged 12.
However, the government has put an “emergency brake” on the spread of infectious and dangerous variants, meaning that Belgian residents must always observe a 10-day quarantine if they return after having been in a high-risk area in the past two weeks.
This applies to everyone, including those who have been vaccinated, De Croo stressed. Non-Belgian residents who come from such a high-risk area are not allowed to enter.
Additionally, to make sure everything happens safely in the coming months, the Consultative Committee also issued ten basic “tips” for everyone:
1. Get vaccinated,
2. Observe the hygiene measures: wash your hands regularly, sneeze in your elbow,
3. Get tested if you feel sick,
4. Do a self-test if you have not yet been vaccinated. “It is just polite when you visit someone,”
5. Give preference to outdoor activities,
6. Choose smaller groups. “The risk of infection is lower in groups of five than in groups of 50,”
7. In a group where everyone has been vaccinated, you can remove the face masks,
8. Keep ventilating rooms,
9. Keep the social distance as much as possible,
10. Use the Digital Covid Certificate when travelling, and follow the rules in the country you are visiting.
“If we keep this in mind, we can look forward to a beautiful summer without too many worries,” De Croo said. “Do not forget to enjoy it. It has been a difficult period.”
“Initially, it was decided to keep the different closing hours for the hospitality industry,” said Flemish Vice Minister-President Hilde Crevits. “However, due to the progress of the vaccination campaign and the upcoming European Football Championship, it was decided to opt for the same hour after all.”
“The European Football Championship could cause people sitting outside and inside to mix in case of different hours,” she said, adding that “the government does not want to take that risk.”
Additionally, people will also be allowed to physically go to work one day a week again from 9 June, confirmed Crevits. As of July, teleworking rules may be further relaxed.
“It is a necessity for people who have been working from home for months, or even a year, that they can now go to work one day a week again,” she said. “It does require a great deal of responsibility from employers and employees.”
“The efforts we have all made mean that we have all lived very cautiously in recent months,” said Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke. “The good results now are due to the vaccination campaign, but also to that caution.”
“The ten recommendations that the Prime Minister made just now are actually another call to continue that caution,” he added. “With more freedom comes greater personal responsibility.”
“We must also protect this freedom. We must protect it against the import of viruses from other countries. That is why we still want to be strict with regard to travellers entering our country,” Vandenbroucke said, referring to the conditions applying for children from 12 years old.
“Some neighbouring countries will also impose these requirements for children from 6 years old,” he said. “These children will not have been vaccinated, and neither will a number of other people, and it would be unfair to make it difficult for these people.”
“Therefore, we are proposing that children aged 6 to 17, and adults, will have two free PCR tests available from 1 July until the end of September,” Vandenbroucke said. “We are trying to be economical, so two tests for adults only if they have not yet received an invitation to get vaccinated.”
“In concrete terms: if you have not yet received a date for your second dose – or for your only dose of Johnson & Johnson – you are entitled to free two PCR tests,” Vandenbroucke said. “The offer will remain valid for three weeks after you have received a date. It will be an easy system, with a code.”
From 13 August, mass events in the open air, like Pukkelpop, can take place with 75,000 visitors again, he specified. Attendees have to present a Covid Safety Ticket (showing that they have been fully vaccinated at least two weeks previously), or a negative Covid-19 test before entry. Offering rapid antigen tests on-site could also be a possibility.
The next Consultative Committee meeting will be held on Friday 11 June, when the next stages of the “Summer Plan” from July will be fleshed out.