Corona update: Measures become stricter this Friday

Summary

With infection rates rising to worrying levels, the federal and regional governments have agreed to close bars at 23.00 and limit public gatherings to a maximum of four people

Avoiding a lockdown

Following a consultation with the regions, new prime minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD) has announced stricter measures to contain the spread of Covid-19. The new measures will come into effect on Friday.

The measures are:

  • Bars close at 23.00  All drinking establishments across the country must close their doors to customers at 23.00 every evening. This has been the case in Brussels and Vilvoorde for about 10 days now. The measure does not apply to restaurants. If in doubt: If the business serves cooked food (not just bar snacks), it is considered a restaurant.
  • Four at the table  Four people maximum can sit at a table in a bar. Again, this applies to bars and not restaurants. More than four people from the same household – families of five or more, for instance – are an exception.
  • Three close contacts  Every person should limit their close contacts to three – or as the new federal public health minister says: “One, two or maximum three.” Close contacts are people outside of our own households who we want to embrace or kiss hello. They are the people with whom we do not practice social distancing. Social distancing should be practiced with anyone outside of this group. If social distancing is impossible, a facemask must be worn. That also includes the people that make up the next measure…
  • Four guests at home  Households cannot invite more than four people at a time inside their home. If one or more of these people does not make up their (one, two or) three close contacts, social distancing must be practiced.
  • Groups of four  Groups gathering together outside must be limited to four people. Again, if these are not close contacts, social distancing must be practiced. This does not apply to professionally organised events.

The measures will stay in place for at least one month, said De Croo. “The situation is worrying and very serious,” he said yesterday at a press conference. “The number of infections is shooting up almost everywhere in the country, and in some hospitals the situation is extremely serious. So we have to do everything we can to flatten the curve again.”

All the previous regulations – such as the wearing of facemasks and the number of people in event venues – also remain in place. Teleworking should also continue as much as possible, added Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon (N-VA) at the press conference.

“Many business have discovered this way of working during the crisis, and we recommend they keep doing it,” said Jambon. “I’m not advocating for 100% teleworking because I think we need to maintain a business culture and relationships with our colleagues. But working from home two or three days a week can help in this situation and is highly recommended.”

Additional measures in Brussels?

Both Jambon and De Croo emphasised the need to stick with rules around social distancing and facemasks in public places – with Jambon mentioning public transport specifically – saying that only by following them will we avoid another lockdown.

The Brussels-Capital Region, meanwhile, is meeting this morning and may announce additional measures as the number of infections per 100,000 residents is the highest in the country. Currently Brussels as a whole is seeing 260 infections per 100,000 residents, and in some municipalities the number goes as high as 500.

In Belgium as a whole, the infection rate is currently 140 per 100,000 residents. According to the ECDC, anything above 60 per 100,000 is high.

The latest figures from public health institute Sciensano show that there are currently 937 people in hospital with Covid-19, with 195 of those in intensive care. Ten people per day are dying of complications from the virus.

UPDATE 07 October: The Brussels regional government has announced that all bars must shut completely for a period of one month

Photo ©Jasper Jacobs/BELGA