Corona update: Shops can open, but rest closed until 15 January

Summary

Shops in Belgium are allowed to re-open on 1 December, but everything else will remain closed until at least mid-January, and the December holidays must be spent in own household

‘We cannot handle a third wave’

Shops and museums in Belgium can re-open as of 1 December, the government has decided, following a meeting today that lasted for several hours. Swimming pools – those used for exercise and sport, not swim parks – maybe also re-open on that date.

All other closures – bars, restaurants, shops, amusement parks and cultural venues, such as cinemas, theatres, museums and concert halls – will remain closed until at least 15 January. Services that require personal contact, such as hair salons and massage providers, must also remain closed, and that until at least 1 February.

The government also announced regulations with regards to holiday celebrations. They are stricter than many had expected: While singles may invite up to two other people for Christmas or New Year, families cannot invite guests this year. Curfews remain in place: midnight in Flanders and 22.00 in the other two regions.

While the situation today is less dramatic than it was, it is still an incredibly dangerous situation

- Prime minister Alexander De Croo

“The situation in the country is better than it was four weeks ago,” said prime minister Alexander De Croo. “And that is due to the efforts we have all made. It has been an intense effort. It is to our credit that our team of 11 million Belgians have managed to put a stop to an incredibly dangerous trend.”

Which is why the country cannot risk a third wave, continued De Croo. It would be impossible for the hospitals to be able to manage another situation such as we have seen over the last three months. “We literally cannot handle a third wave,” said De Croo.

The governments do not want to “waste all those efforts and put in danger what we have managed to accomplish over the last few weeks,” he said. “While the situation today is less dramatic than it was, it is still an incredibly dangerous situation. Based on the last figures, we are still in an emergency phase of  level four. That means that the virus is everywhere, and that the infection rate is at a dangerous level.”

The last thing we want to do is throw away all the accomplishments of the last several weeks in four days’ time

De Croo emphasised that this was not a time for “fun shopping”. People must shop alone, unless accompanied by children or someone who requires assistance. They must limit their visit to each shop to 30 minutes.

He is also asking that if people find that a shopping street is crowded, they turn around the head home. “We are counting on everyone’s sense of responsibility,” said De Cross. “Waiting a little is much more responsible than creating a dangerous situation,” he said.

Municipalities may take measures to prevent streets and shops from becoming too crowded if they feel they need to.

Regarding the upcoming holidays, De Croo says that he knows “that many people had hoped that this would be different. I completely understand the disappointment. I also really wanted to celebrate Christmas with my sister, my parents and my in-laws. But this is just not possible this year. The last thing we want to do is throw away all the accomplishments of the last several weeks in four days’ time. That’s what it’s all about.”

Travel is still allowed, though strongly discouraged, said the prime minister. He pointed to ski holidays specifically, saying he was in talks with other countries about closing some of the ski resorts to prevent too many people from congregating and bringing the virus into the country. It was the ski holidays in the spring, he noted, that spread the virus to many European countries where it was not yet present.

Anyone who does choose to travel outside of Belgium’s borders is reminded to fill out the Passenger Locator Form before returning. Border controls will be checking people during the Christmas school holiday to make sure they have filled out the form.

Photo, from left: Wallonian minister-president Elio Di Rupo, prime minister Alexander De Croo and Flemish minister president Jan Jambon announce the new measures
©Olivier Matthys