PM announces relaxations despite mounting corona cases

PM Sophie Wilmès (Francophone liberal) has addressed the people of Belgium after the first national security council meeting in a month. The council groups the federal and devolved governments. The Belgian leader was keen to clarify the rules introduced to stem the spread of coronavirus. The PM’s announcements only contain relaxations.

Ms Wilmès said the basic rules remained the same. People should wash their hands regularly, preferably pursue activities out of doors, protect the vulnerable, keep a distance of 1.5m and if that’s not possible wear a face covering.

“You can see everybody, as long as you keep your distance.  If that’s not possible, wear a face covering.  Seeing more than ten people at one time, children not included, isn’t possible.”

Close contact with others from outside your household is limited to five people: “You are allowed to be in close proximity with others for longer than 15 minutes, but we need to avoid this as much as possible. Everybody can be in close contact with no more than 5 others a month” Ms Wilmès said.

The bubble system allowing households to join up with a fixed set of close contacts is being ditched.

Starting 1 October face coverings will only be compulsory in busy locations and when the 1.5m social distance cannot be maintained. Indoors existing rules will continue to apply: face coverings are mandatory in shops, on public transport and at the cinema. Local authorities will be asked to follow the national regulations.

In future, from 1 October, quarantine will be cut to seven days. This applies when you have been without symptoms for three days and after a negative test at the end of the week.

People returning from red zones abroad or who have had a high risk contact in Belgium will only need to quarantine for seven days.

Events organised by professionals including receptions and weddings will have to adhere to the same rules as bars, hotels and restaurants.  Dancing is still not permitted though the opening dance at a wedding will be permitted though the opening dance at a wedding will be permitted.

Attendance at events indoors is limited to 200 people, outdoors to 400.

If you organise a private event no more than 10 people may attend, children under 12 not included.

The prime minister noted that Belgium was now in the third phase of its coronavirus approach.  After the limitation phase and the relaxations, we are in the phase of risk management: “How can we return to a situation that is as close as possible to normal while the virus is still present?”

Belgian experts are working on what the PM dubbed “a barometer system like in Ireland”, but it’s not yet ready and will only be finished in a fortnight's time. 

“The barometer will operate at the national, regional and provincial level” the PM intimated. “It still needs to be fine-tuned and will operate using various phases: the worse the situation, the stricter the rules”.

The barometer will take into account the number of hospitalisations.

All existing regulations governing education, cultural events and sports remain in place but will be adapted to make the rules more predictable and to allow these sectors to recover “while protecting public health”.

Virologist Marc Van Ranst has spoken of his disappointment following the PM’s news conference: “This isn’t the time for relaxations.  The people who called for relaxations bear great responsibility.”

VRT chief political correspondent Ivan De Vadder dubbed the news conference “the most pointless ever”. “There was little news just a repetition of existing measures.”

But Belgian health minister De Block has rushed to the MP’s defence: “Strict measures are pointless if they are not observed”. 

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