Exit strategy announced, shops open from 11 May

Summary

Belgium’s measures to control the spread of the coronavirus are ‘paying off’, said the prime minister, as she announced a three-part exit strategy

Quarantine remains in force

The current measures to control the spread of Covid-19 are due to end on 3 May, and the Security Council has now announced the phases of the crisis exit plan. The plan lays out measures in phases until 14 June.

General quarantine measures and the ban on gathering in groups remain in force until at least 18 May. All current measures remain unless adapted in one of the phases.

PHASE 1A, FROM 4 MAY:

  • Facemasks are required on all public transport in Belgium. That includes trams, busses and the metro, as well as trains. Facemasks should also be worn in circumstances where it is difficult to practice social distancing. Municipalities are required to supply every resident with at last one facemask. Children under the age of 12 are not required to wear a mask. In the absence of a facemask, a scarf worn over the mouth and nose is acceptable.
  • Fabric shops may open. This is to allow those who want to make their own facemasks to do so.
  • Industry and B2B businesses – which do not work with the public – may resume activities and call workers back, under strict conditions of hygiene and social distancing. Employers must supply workers with a facemask. Only people who cannot work from home should be asked to return to work. Teleworking remains the norm for those who can do so.
  • Other open-air sport activities besides walking, jogging and cycling are allowed, such as basketball or Frisbee, but are restricted to two people, or three people if two of them live under the same roof. Citizens are reminded that they must keep moving; the idea is that you are getting exercise, not relaxing on a bench or in a park. It is also still not allowed to drive to a location to exercise, although exceptions are made for families with children five and younger, pregnant women and people with a disability.

PHASE 1B, FROM 11 MAY:

  • All shops may re-open, under strict hygiene conditions, including limiting the number of customers in the shop at any given time, similar to the current measure for supermarkets. This means that the restriction on movements is also relaxed to allow shopping.
  • Contact tracers begin. Contact tracers will be tasked with informing people that they have come into contact with someone who has symptoms of or tested positive for the coronavirus. A smartphone app for citizens is not being considered for now.

PHASE 2, FROM 18 MAY

  • Schools re-open for a portion of pupils, as laid out by the Flemish government’s proposal, released earlier this week. As Flanders wanted to re-open the schools on Friday, 15 May (as a test-day) and Wallonia on 18 May, the decision was made to officially open the schools on 18 May with the previous Friday used as a test day should a school choose to do that.

   The number of pupils allowed in a classroom is dependent on the size of the room. No more
   than 10 pupils and one teacher may be in a classroom at any given time. Pupils aged 12 and
   over, teachers and any other personnel present in the school must wear facemasks.

   All other pupils will continue to take part in distance-learning. Pre-schools will remain closed until
   at least the end of May. Schools must continue to provide child care to parents who must work
   and have no other option. Previously that was restricted to children whose parents held down
   the so-called essential jobs. Day-care centres remain open, in any case.

  • The Security Council will make announcements later as to potential further adaptations in this phase, such as day-trips, staying in a second residence, visits with a limited number of people and as to whether hairstylists and museums can open.

PHASE 3, FROM 8 JUNE

This phase is dependent on the success of the previous phases in controlling the spread of the virus.

  • Restaurants and bars might be gradually allowed to open
  • Holidays within and outside of Belgium could be allowed, as well as other travel outside of Belgium

Other adaptations to the current measures are an increase in non-essential procedures that can be carried out in hospitals. Anyone waiting on a procedure should contact their hospital.

The Security Council said that it would make further announcements regarding professional sport matches and competitions, youth summer camps, the opening of tourist attractions and smaller outdoor events. It was announced earlier that all large-scale summer festivals would be cancelled.

To be clear, the restrictions on movements outside the home and gathering in groups is still in force until at least 18 May. Social distancing and hand-hygiene remains the norm.

We are counting on your desire to act responsibly, your civic engagement and your common sense

- Prime minister Sophie Wilmès

The Security Council said that it would constantly monitor the public health situation and adapt the measures as the weeks progress. “We have always known that the exit strategy would be a long-term process,” said prime minister Sophie Wilmès (MR) at the press conference yesterday evening. “We are looking at a long period of transition, which will eventually get us back to a place where we can live our normal lives.”

Wilmès emphasised that the efforts that we have already made have had a huge impact on medical personnel and the number of deaths. Quarantine measures have kept Belgium far below the maximum capacity in intensive care space.

“To make this work, we depend on all of you,” she continued. “We are counting on your desire to act responsibly, your civic engagement and your common sense. Respecting these measures will get us back – back to the things we love, and to the people we love.”

She closed the press conference with words that have become familiar: “Take care of yourself, and take care of each other.”

Photo ©Philippe Clément/Belpress