Coronavirus: Facemasks required in shops, ‘red zones’ for travellers


New regulations handed down this week include the compulsory wearing of facemasks in indoor public places and required Covid-19 testing for travellers coming back from ‘red zones’

‘Civic duty’

The federal government has announced that facemasks will be required in supermarkets, shops and other publish places from this Saturday, 11 July. Spaces in which a mask is compulsory includes supermarkets, retail shops, cinemas, museums, libraries, theatres, concert halls, conference venues and places of worship.

It is required to wear a mask in such spaces for anyone aged 12 and over. The list of applicable venues may change over time, depending on the coronavirus situation.

A committee of Belgium’s various levels of government made the decision on Thursday evening after receiving advice from the expert panel in charge of the coronavirus exit strategy. A ministerial decree will soon confirm the sanctions for non-compliance, as well as measures allowing for venues to be closed down if they do not apply the rules.

We hope that people will show a sense of civic duty and that business owners will not be forced to ask them to comply

- Danny Van Assche of Unizo

Belgium’s Superior Health Council, the federal health ministry’s scientific advisory body, had this week strongly urged the federal government to make wearing a mask compulsory in shops. The council said that the measure was necessary “to protect the population from the sometimes inappropriate behaviour of certain people who are not concerned about protecting themselves and others”.

Wearing a mask has, until now, been only “strongly recommended” in shops and other public places where a safe distance cannot be guaranteed. The formal requirement to wear a facemask has only applied to public transport, including airports, and businesses where close contact is necessary, such as hairdressers.

The head of Unizo, which represented small businesses in Flanders, questioned the timing of the measure, finding that it comes late in the coronavirus exit strategy. “If this was a problem, it could have been done from the beginning,” Danny Van Assche told VRT.

Still, he’s satisfied with the measure, which he says will protect small business owners and workers. “We only hope that people will show a sense of civic duty and that business owners will not be forced to ask them to comply.”

Also this week, the federal foreign affairs ministry published a colour-coded system for people travelling abroad. European countries are split into red, orange and green zones, depending on the level of infections or on their own rules for allowing travellers in from other countries.

A red colour indicates that travel to the country is not currently allowed. An orange colour indicates that travel to the country is allowed but some restrictions apply. Travellers should check those restrictions carefully before leaving on holiday.

The government’s system also includes red zones – areas within certain countries where travel is forbidden based on the local coronavirus situation. That means that, while the country itself might fall under the orange category, it includes red zones.

Currently, there are three red zones: Lleida and A Mariña in Spain, and the Portuguese capital Lisbon. Travellers are advised to check regularly as the list will be updated based on the number of coronavirus infections per 100,000 inhabitants.

Airports don’t count

Foreign affairs emphasises that the red zones apply to people who have stayed within the red zone on holiday, not simply passed through the airport. So anyone flying in and out of Lisbon, for instance, who immediately left the city for other parts of Portugal are not considered to be coming home from a red zone.

Belgian residents already in red zones are required to quarantine for 14 days and take a coronavirus test upon their return to Belgium. Travellers who ignore the guidance and travel to a red zone could find their travel insurance cancelled.

Last week, the foreign affairs department listed 15 countries outside Europe where travel was allowed or would soon be allowed. These include Australia, Canada and Thailand. This list will be updated weekly. Again, anyone planning to travel outside of the EU should regularly check the website for updates.

All of the regulations apply for non-essential travel, such as holidays and visits to home countries. Essential travel for business or diplomatic purposes may be allowed, depending on the country.

The foreign affairs website is in English, Dutch, French and German, though the English and German pages are more limited. For more complete information, switch to Dutch or French.

Photos, from top: ©Benoit Doppagne/BELGA, ©Bruno Fahy/BELGA