Face masks in all busy places, registering at restaurants or pubs, extra travel documents: corona measures extended

Night shops are to close earlier, pubs and restaurants will have to register all customers and keep details for two weeks, and face masks will become mandatory in busy places like markets or shopping streets across the country: Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès has announced stricter hygiene measures after a new meeting of the National Security Council with federal and regional ministers and health experts, considering the worsening Covid statistics. The new measures will apply as from Saturday, unless local authorities have stated otherwise. 

The PM started her address by confirming that the exit phase has been halted: the next step of relaxations, with more people allowed at cultural, sports or other events, has been scrapped. At the same time, new measures are being introduced: 

  • Face masks will be mandatory in all busy places, such as outdoor markets, fairgrounds or shopping streets, and in all public buildings like libraries. Which shopping streets will be affected exactly will be decided by the local mayors, but it is certain to apply to the well-known major shopping streets like the Meir in Antwerp, the Nieuwstraat in Brussels and Ghent's Veldstraat, among others. When you go out to a restaurant, you will have to wear a face mask when you arrive and when you leave the place, or whenever you leave the table, to use the toilet for example.  Mouth masks were already mandatory on public transport, in shops, cinemas, museums, and at theatre and concert venues. 
  • Night shops will have to close their doors at 10 p.m. instead of 1  o'clock in the morning. This is to avoid that those coming from pubs or cafés would continue the party on the street. Closing times for the hospitality industry are being maintained at 1 a.m.
  • Pubs and restaurants will have to register clients and keep their data for two weeks, in spite of claims that this goes against privacy legislation. The measure is meant to boost contact tracing. One person at each table will be asked to leave his/her data for the whole group. A similar system already exists in Germany and France.
  • Local towns and municipalities will have more powers to take measures at their own, local level. This can range from an extra obligation to wear mouth masks, to a local lockdown (a street, a district, a whole town…) but the latter only in extreme cases. However, they will have to contact the regional and federal level before imposing any new measures.
  • The so-called contact bubbles (the maximum number of people to maintain close contacts with) remains at 15, despite the advice of various experts to lower it to 10. There was apparently a lot of debate on the issue during the council, but PM Wilmès said “they did not want to punish people who are strictly following the rules". But it also means that we really have to stick to this number of people, which does not apply per day but for a longer period. 
  • Everyone returning from a holiday abroad will have to complete a document 48 hours before coming back to Belgium, whether you travel by car, plane, boat or train, and whether you come from a country labelled with a red, orange or green code. This document can be downloaded from the internet. (see below) This obligation is only imposed if you have been outside Belgium for more than 48 hours, not if you just cross the border for the day or for a couple of hours to do some shopping.  
  • PM Wilmès urged everyone to make a special effort to follow the existing basic guidelines (hand-washing, social distancing, face masks, respecting the contact bubble, extra care when meeting vulnerable persons like your grandparents etc.) and underlined that those flouting the rules risk a fine. 

Click here for the travel document. 

Top stories