Borders shut as coronavirus death toll in Belgium reaches 75


Closures and cancellations continue as Covid-19 continues to spread across the population

Stick to your hood

Belgium shut its borders last Friday to “non-essential” travel as a further measure to curb the spread of Covid-19. People trying to leave and to enter Belgium are being stopped and must turn back.

“Essential” travel encompasses crossing the border for work or to return home, to visit a medical facility or to respond to a family emergency. Lorries transporting goods will also be allowed to cross the borders.

Authorities have become concerned in particular about the difference between the Netherlands’ and Belgium’s handling of the corona crisis. “We are making it clear to Dutch people who want to spend a day in Belgium that they cannot do that for the time being,” said a spokesperson from the Kempen Noord-Oost police zone.

Police began in fact sending Dutch tourists home last Thursday, before the borders were officially shut. Some 700 cars were stopped in a five-hour period. While major border crossing are being patrolled by police, smaller regional and local roads that pass into the Netherlands, France and Germany have been blocked.

Recreational areas closed

Provincial recreational domains have also closed in Belgium, which came as a surprise to walkers, joggers and cyclists at the weekend. Places like Puyenbroeck in East Flanders, Bulskampveld in West Flanders and De Schorre in Antwerp province are closed to outdoor enthusiasts as there were too many people showing up.

Many other parks and nature areas are open, but there has been some confusion as to whether people are allowed to drive to such places to walk, jog or cycle. While police were telling people at recreational domains at the weekend that they may not drive to any location to get some exercise, some ministers have said that people may drive as long as it’s “in the neighbourhood”.

Our advice: Exit the house to walk or jog on foot and leave the car at home. Or do a cycle tour instead, which will get you further out of the city than walking. Or cycle to your walking destination. All are forms of exercise and so allowed under the regulations.

If you really must drive, try to keep it to 10 minutes or less and do not enter any recreation areas that are closed. These places are closed even to local residents. Police have roped off parking areas to make it clear to visitors that the domain is closed.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure that you keep a 1.5-metre distance from other people at all times. Whether outside or inside, that rule is standard.

It would be unwise to assume that there will be any substantial period in which we can resume classes as usual

- UHasselt rector Luc De Schepper

Flemish universities, meanwhile, have announced that classes would be held virtually until the end of the academic year. Rectors assume that the 5 April deadline for the current restrictions on movement will be extended. “It would be unwise to assume that there will be any substantial period in which we can resume classes as usual,” said UHasselt rector Luc De Schepper.

Institutions are considering whether to extend the academic year because of the interruption to studies. “The workload for students should remain more or less the same,” emphasised De Schepper. “If there is an extension of the academic year, it need to be a reasonable length. Students must have enough time off during the summer.”

Finally, Belgium freed up space at the weekend for an additional 759 beds in intensive care, bringing the total to 2,650. While the number of coronavirus patients requiring intensive care right now – 290 – is far from the previous maximum number of beds available, the government wanted to ensure that when the peak number of infections is reached, there would be no shortage of beds.

The current official number of infections in Belgium is 3,400, with 75 deaths. The number of actual infections is unknown as most people with symptoms are not being tested. Anyone who begins to have symptoms – fatigue, a fever and a dry cough – should call their physicians.

Photo: Kristof Van Accom/BELGA