New corona measures: Bars and restaurants must close for a month

Summary

A midnight curfew and the closing of bars and restaurants are two of the new host of measures introduced to control the spread of the coronavirus

Financial support for affected businesses

As of tomorrow, bars and restaurants in Belgium must close and close social contacts must be scaled back to one person. These are the two of the new measures announced by the federal government on Friday.

The rise in infections and the number of people admitted to hospital with complications due to Covid-19 is alarming, according to Celeval, the panel of experts advising the federal government on corona crisis policy. Of the 15,000 tests carried out last week, more than 14% were positive.

The number of new Covid cases nearly doubled between last week and the week before, with 6,764 people testing positive. There are currently nearly 2,100 people in hospital, with 358 of them needing intensive care. Last week an average 25 people a day died from the virus in Belgium.

“Our country has reached an extremely high peak,” said prime minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD) announcing the new measures. “Everyone feels how close this virus is to each and every one of us.”

The new measures are:

  • Close contacts must be reduced to just one person outside of one’s household. Close contacts are people we touch or spend at least 15 minutes in close contact with without using a facemask. Close contacts should be considered valid over a two-week period, so a different person can be a close contact every two weeks.
  • Teleworking remains or returns to the norm for those who can do so.
  • Bars and restaurants must close completely from Monday, 19 October, for one month. This measure will be revisited in two weeks to assess if it must be extended. As during the spring lockdown, take-away is allowed.
  • Alcohol cannot be sold by any outlet after 20.00.
  • A curfew is imposed at midnight. No one may leave home between midnight and 5.00 without a valid reason, such as travelling to and from work.
  • Four guests may be welcomed into a household, with social distancing and facemask regulations respected.
  • Funerals may, as before, allow up to 200 people, but the reception following is limited to a maximum of 40 people. Other events that require catering, such as wedding receptions and communions, are banned.

“I am very much aware that these are really tough measures,” said De Croo. “The next few weeks will be challenging, but we must act now before things get worse.”

The federal and Flemish governments have announced subsidies for businesses affected by the new measures. Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon (N-VA) said that any business that loses more than 60% of its profit because of the measures can apply for subsidies.

“The basic framework of these measures took in four important factors,” said Jambon. “Keeping the schools open so that pupils don’t fall behind during this crisis; keeping industries operating; easing the pressure on health-care workers, including staff in nursing homes and other care organisations; and trying to prevent people becoming isolated, which can be a consequence of taking measures.”

Jambon went on to say that it was “not easy” to take the decision to close bars and restaurants. “The federal and regional governments have support packages to offer. In Flanders, we are extending the Compensation Premium we already had in place.”

He also emphasised that the bars and restaurants were not being punished for doing a bad job during the corona crisis. “We have all seen what an amazing job they have done in sticking with the measures. But these are places where people sit in close contact with each other and where the virus gets the chance to spread. It’s simply an atmosphere that allows the virus to spread quickly.”

For regular corona crisis updates, visit the federal government’s dedicated website, in four languages.

Photo: Prime minister Alexander De Croo (left) and federal public health minister Frank Vandenbroucke (right) during a visit to Antwerp University Hospital last week
©Benoit Doppagne/BELGA