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Brussels British Community Association

COVID-19: Belgium has set its strategy for ending the crisis

25 Apr 2020 1:36 PM | Tim Reynolds (Administrator)

Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes' press release of 24 April 2020

On the basis of an opinion from the Group of Experts in charge of the Exit Strategy (GEES), the National Security Council met this Friday 24 April at the Palais d'Egmont to define the deconfinement strategy for Belgium out of the COVID-19 crisis. As a reminder, the federal government and the federated entities have taken a series of measures together since 12 March to curb the spread of COVID-19 in our country. Encouraging indicators - such as the decrease in the number of daily hospitalisations and the flattening of rate of deaths linked to the virus - allow us today to envisage a gradual deconfinement. The authorities nevertheless insist on the fact that the virus is still present in our territory and remains a danger to the population.

Strict containment measures will be maintained until at least Sunday 3 May. Then, Belgium can start its deconfinement process, if conditions at the time allow.

For the avoidance of doubt, any existing measure that is not explicitly removed is retained.


Rules that will remain in effect

It is important to emphasize that certain rules will remain in force, regardless of the phase of deconfinement outlined below. These are:

  • Limiting contact between people
  • Respect for safety social distancing
  • Good hygiene habits, also called "barrier gestures".

Cover your mouth and nose

Covering your mouth and nose will be part of good practice during the deconfinement process. This can be done using a mask or other alternative protection (such as a scarf or bandana). This practice will be:

  • Highly recommended in public spaces
  • Mandatory in public transport for all users aged 12 and over. This measure will come into effect on 4 May.

This practice does not replace, but is in addition to, respecting safe social distancing and enhanced hygiene measures (wash your hands etc.)

The federal government and the federated entities are working together to provide each citizen with at least one standard fabric protection mask or equivalent. Various initiatives are supporting this goal. The authorities also wish to distribute two "filters" to each citizen for use with the masks. Surgical masks and FFP2 equipment should remain reserved for healthcare professionals, nursing homes, communities and security services only.

In the world of work, the employer - including the public - will have to provide workers with means of protection, as required.

Please note, the authorities point out that in general, covering your mouth and nose is not sufficient protection alone, you must continue to respect safety distances and hygiene measures.

The use of public transport

The gradual deconfinement inevitably will lead to an increase in the use of public transport. In order to avoid crowd effects, it is advisable to:

  • If you can, get around on your own (walk, bike, car, etc.) to give priority to people who need public transportation the most
  • Avoid rush hour, if possible.

The Deconfinement strategy

All of the following dates are subject to change depending on the general health situation and the evolution of the virus.

1. Phase 1 - a (4 May, estimated)

For industries and B2B services

Telework should remain the norm. It will be possible to overcome issues in respecting safe social distancing in a company through compliance with a series of health recommendations, including the wearing of a mask. With regard to the organization of work, the Group of Ten has adopted a general guide to good practice, which will serve as the basis for sectoral or company agreements to be concluded. It will thus be a benchmark for a gradual economic recovery under healthy and safe conditions for all.

For shops and restaurants

The rules do not change, with the exception of fabric stores and haberdasheries that may reopen, given the important role they will play in relation to protections/ masks covering the nose and mouth.

In terms of health

In recent weeks, the epidemic has had a major impact on care services, both in primary care and hospitals. Working groups are already studying how to meet both the need to continue to provide the best care for people infected with COVID-19 while gradually and securely expanding access to general and specialized health care. The aim is that, as quickly as possible, everyone can have access to health care in a "normal" way again while avoiding saturating the medical infrastructures necessary for the care of patients with the virus.

At the level of daily life

Outdoor physical activity will be allowed with a maximum of two people, in addition to those living under the same roof, provided that safe social distancing is always respected. Other sports activities will also be permitted in the open air but without contact. If these activities require infrastructure, the fact remains that access to changing rooms and shared showers, as well as cafeterias, remains prohibited.

2. Phase 1 - b (11 May, estimated)

For shops

This phase will make it possible to reopen all businesses, at the same time, without discrimination to size and sector, giving everyone the same chance of success. This reopening will be determined by the prevailing conditions. These will be defined in consultation with business sectors and social partners. They will be of three types:

  • Work organization
  • Client reception
  • Limiting access to shops to avoid crowds. Professions involving close physical contact will remain closed

At the level of daily life

We will also clarify the future of short-term sports competitions at this point.

3. Phase 2 (18 May, estimated)

For shops

We will consider if and under what conditions professions involving physical contact (such as hairdressers) can reopen.

At the level of culture

The opening of museums could be envisaged at this point, also under certain conditions. For example, through the development of a contactless ticketing system.

At the level of daily life

For team sports, outdoor physical training will be allowed in recognized clubs only, and subject to compliance with specific guidelines.

Schools

The resumption of classes will be very gradual, with a reopening on 18 May. Not all students will return at once. Each language community will be responsible for developing, in consultation with the sector, the implementation of this decision.

Certain other initiatives will also be examined at this point:

  • The possibility of allowing private (social) meetings at home
  • Allowing more people to attend weddings and funerals
  • Allowing more than two people to practice an outdoor activity
  • The possibility of organizing day trips to certain regions of the country or travel to a second residence (in Belgium).

4. Phase 3 (no earlier than 8 June, estimated)

Several points will have to be considered at this point:

  • The terms of possible and gradual reopening of restaurants; and then cafes and bars. This must be done, in any event, under strict conditions.
  • The various summer activities such as trips abroad, youth movement camps (a decision should be made on this by the end of May), internships, tourist attractions but also smaller outdoor events.

The only certainty is that mass festival-type events will not be allowed until 31 August at the earliest.

Conditions for success

To ensure deconfinement in the best possible conditions, testing and tracing will play a major role.

As far as screening is concerned, the objective is to be able to offer a laboratory test to all the people who need it, that is to say those who present symptoms and for whom a doctor suspects an infection, people highly exposed to the virus by their profession and people exposed to the virus after close contact with an infected person.

The capacity of our laboratories will reach 25 000 PCR tests per day by 4 May, and this capacity will be expandable to 45 000. In order to provide support for carrying out the tests, public and private laboratories as well as the federal platform are fully mobilized.

Regarding the supply of medical equipment, deliveries continue, and Belgium has a sufficient stock of purchased equipment.

For tracing, a coordinated strategy between regions and communities will be implemented, with the support of federal experts.

You can view the presentation (in French and Dutch) made by the National Security Council on 24 April here.

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