Coronavirus measures extended until 3 May, summer festivals cancelled

Summary

The prime minister has announced that the measures taken to control the spread of Covid-19 will be extended for an additional two weeks, but some regulations have been relaxed slightly

Efforts paying off

Prime minister Sophie Wilmès (MR) announced at a special press conference this evening that the measures taken in Belgium to control the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19 will be extended for two weeks, until 3 May.

“We can see that hospital admittances have fallen to half of what they were during the peak of the crisis,” said Wilmès. “That is a direct result of our efforts. The capacity in the hospitals has been sufficient to take care of those who have needed it. Still, the number of people in intensive care remains a concern, and we are still seeing, unfortunately, deaths every day.”

A quick summary of the measures currently in place: schools, shops, restaurants and bars remain closed. All cinemas, theatres, museums and cultural centres also remain closed.

Residents must stay home unless they are on their way to a supermarket, post office, newspaper shop, pharmacy or medical facility. Residents are allowed outside to get some exercise in the form of walking, jogging and cycling. While it is allowed to get exercise with one other person who does not live with you, you are expected to remain 1.5 metres away from them.

We cannot ignore the consequences that the current measures have on people’s psychological wellbeing

- Prime minister Sophie Wilmès

While nursing home residents and shut-ins may now receive one visitor (see details below), visiting others in general is still not allowed, nor are gatherings of three or more people. Families and others who live under the same roof are an exception to this rule. Everyone who does not live together must remain 1.5 metres away from each other at all times.

People must work at home unless this is impossible, in which case employers must ensure that workers can remain at least 1.5 metres away from each other at all times. If this cannot be ensured, then the business should close.

These rules do not apply to what the government calls essential jobs, such as supermarket workers, medical staff, postal workers, police and firefighters.

Wilmès also announced that all summer music festivals are cancelled, at least those taking place before 1 September. “Massive events, such as music festivals,” said the prime minister, “cannot be organised until 31 August.” This also includes such multi-disciplinary events such as the Gentse Feesten and Zomer van Antwerpen.

DIY shops can open

There is a lessening of restrictions, however in a couple of areas. All garden centres and home improvement/DIY stores may open, under the same conditions as the supermarkets: shopping carts should be disinfected and social distancing encouraged.

People who live in nursing homes and in homes for the developmentally disabled may receive a visitor. It must be just one person designated ahead of time, and this is the only person who can make return visits. The visitor must not have had symptoms of the coronavirus for at least 14 days. Symptoms include a fever, dry cough and extreme fatigue.

This same rule applies to all shut-ins. Anyone who cannot leave their home may receive one visitor. This must always be the same visitor.

“We cannot ignore the consequences that the current measures have on people’s psychological wellbeing,” said the prime minister, “and certainly not on people who are already vulnerable”.

Skewed figures

She also addressed the huge problems being faced by nursing homes, which were not prepared nor equipped to take on an infectious disease. “The situation in the nursing homes is also very challenging,” said Wilmès. “I assure you that the regional governments together with the federal government are working very hard on solutions for this emergency situation. People are currently being screening in large numbers in the nursing homes, as 210,000 tests have been spread among them.”

There is also the issue of nursing home deaths being included in Belgium’s coronavirus death figures, while other countries do not necessarily include them. This has made Belgium’s death rate seem much higher than that of other countries.

Added to that, because nursing homes were not equipped with tests for the virus, it’s possible that many deaths have been attributed to Covid-19 incorrectly. “This current widespread testing will make it possible to identify Covid-19 patients and help keep the other residents healthy,” said Wilmès. “It will also allow us to get a more precise picture of how many deaths are due to Covid-19 in nursing homes. Belgium has chosen for maximum transparency in its reporting of coronavirus deaths – or potential coronavirus deaths – and it appears that some figures are inflated.”

As for facemasks, the prime minister suggested that we would be needing to wear them in the future, when the measures begin to be rescinded, especially if we were in situations where other safety measures were difficult to ensure.

The Security Council will meet again next week, she confirmed, to begin discussing an exit strategy. The current plan is to start rescinding measures gradually in early May.

“We are not yet at the end of this journey,” concluded Wilmès, “but I know that we will reach our destination. And when we get there, we will find each other again. And we will be closer, even more connected. Take care of yourself and take care of each other.”

Photo ©Pool Benoit Doppagne/BELGA