Coronavirus: Stricter measures in force from 12.00 today


Following a lacklustre response by the public to recently announced regulations, the government has announced stricter measures to be taken to control the spread of Covid-19

‘Forced’ to take further measures

The federal government has announced stricter measures in response to the continued spread of the Covid-19 virus in Belgium. Prime minister Sophie Wilmès announced the new measures yesterday evening.

“The evolution of the situation forces us to take further measures to control the spread of the virus,” said Wilmès in the televised announcement. “People need to stay home in order to avoid contact with the outside world as much as possible.”

Starting at noon today and lasting until at least 6 April, everyone must avoid unnecessary journeys outside. Residents are asked to leave home only for specific reasons, which include visits to: a doctor or medical facility; a pharmacy, supermarket or other food shop; press agents; petrol stations; the post office; or to take care of a family member or friend in need.

That doesn’t include exercise out of doors, which the government in fact encourages. Walking and jogging are fine, as long as it is not done in a group. Residents are asked to walk or jog with just one other person, preferably a family member. Those who take to the woods or countryside should stay at least 1.5 metres away from other people.

I want to thank each and every one of you who have, in your own way, contributed to this collective and national effort

- Prime minister Sophie Wilmès

Employers must allow all employees to work from home who can possibly do that. If that is not possible, they must arrange a set-up so that workers are no less than 1.5 metres away from each other.

Both those who work in offices and in the field must follow the guidelines, keeping 1.5 metres away from each other but also members of the public. If this is not possible, then the business in question must close until at least 6 April.

While shops that did not sell food could be open during the week, now they must close permanently. Supermarkets and other shops selling food will remain open, but must strictly enforce regulations around the number of people inside at one time.

10 square-metres per person

Every supermarket and food shop must allow at least 10 square-metres per person so that customers can practice “social distancing” (keeping one to two metres away from each other and not gathering in groups). This means that supermarkets must control how many people are in the space at any given time. Customers are also asked to restrict their time in any supermarket or food shop to 30 minutes.

Small shops, such as night shops, can only allow one customer at a time. Night shops must close at 22.00. Hair salons are allowed to remain open, but can only allow one customers at a time to enter the premises.

If anyone – individuals or a company – is caught not following the guidelines, they can be fined up to €4,000 and receive jail time of up to three months. Should a company continue to violate the regulations, it will be closed.

Emergency and hospital services are, of course, exempt from these regulations. “But even they should engage in social distancing as much as possible,” Wilmès said.

Strict measures were announced last week, but if people aren’t following them, then they don’t deliver the necessary results

- Professor Erika Vlieghe

Public transport will continue but must guarantee social distancing regulations. The public is asked to avoid public transport as much as possible.

All of the measures are in force until Monday, 6 April. Schools also remain closed until then, when they will continue to be closed for two weeks for the Easter holiday.

“Try to make sure that your loved ones are OK,” Wilmès emphasised. “It is essential in these difficult times that ‘social distancing’ does not become synonymous with social disconnection. It is limited to physical distance, and it is temporary. But I know that it is very difficult.”

Wilmès also took a moment to thank people who have taken the previously announced measures seriously and who will continue to do so in the coming weeks. “I want to thank each and every one of you who have, in your own way, contributed to this collective and national effort,” she said, and noted that the decisions “were not taken lightly” and are being enforced “to protect you and to protect your loved ones”.

The new set of regulations, according to infectious disease expert Erika Vlieghe, speaking on De Afspraak, is in response to the public not taking the threat of the coronavirus seriously enough.

“The government had already announced serious measures last week, but there were many problems in the weekend,” she said. “The people who crossed over the border to go to restaurants in the Netherlands, shops that stayed open, people gathering outside in groups. It was great that strict measures were announced, but if people aren’t following them, then they don’t deliver the necessary results. And this while the epidemic grows.”

There are currently 1,243 official cases of Covid-19 in Belgium, most of them in Flanders. Authorities emphasise that that is not a true number of cases as many sick people are not being tested. Ten people in Belgium have died from complications brought on by the virus.

Photo: Ryan McVay/Getty Images