Tighter corona rules for returning holiday makers: self-isolate for one week, take two tests

Belgian residents returning from a stay in a red area abroad (which is almost the whole of Europe) will have to self-isolate for seven days and undergo a double corona test. At the same time, federal police will stage extra checks in airports, on international trains and on motorways amidst growing fears that international travellers may import coronavirus in times when Belgian figures are improving.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Flemish liberal) announced the stricter rules on Wednesday afternoon after a meeting of the so-called 'Consultative Committee' with representatives of the different governments.

The new rules will apply to anybody returning to Belgium after a stay of at least 48 hours abroad. People will have to undergo a corona test upon arrival, self-isolate for 7 days and take a new corona test after one week. The quarantine can only be finished if this second test is negative. The new scheme will come into force as from tomorrow., and will apply at least until 15 January.

A few exceptions will apply to those working in essential sectors or to students that have to do an exam. Foreigners willing to enter Belgium already had to present a negative corona test. 

The federal government is following earlier calls made by experts. Infectologist Erika Vlieghe (UAntwerpen) had argued that the present rules for returning Belgian holiday makers (the PLF, see below) were not at all sufficient, adding that they also depended on the people's good will.

No temporary unemployment benefit 

It's the contact tracing team that will check whether you have done your two corona tests. The so-called 'Comité Testing and Tracing' cannot impose fines: this will be done by local police teams, but a legal framework has to be worked out first. The government is counting on everybody's goodwill, but for the tests and for the self-isolation. 

Companies with a lot of international staff fear they will miss a number of employees at the start of next year. And contrary to what was first announced, blue- or white-collar workers in self-isolation that can't work from home, cannot apply for a temporary unemployment benefit after all. There is one exception: when you needed to go abroad for professional reasons. 

Stricter checks on PLF

Yesterday, Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden had already announced stricter checks of the so-called Passenger Locator Form (PLF). Anybody coming into Belgium after spending more than 48 hours abroad has to fill in a questionnaire about whereabouts, possibly dangerous contacts etc.

"We have to avoid ending up in a situation like last March, when Belgians returned from their holiday carrying coronavirus, which accelerated the spreading of the epidemic in Belgium," the minister referred to the first lockdown in spring. Belgium is doing particularly well in Europe for the moment. 

Checks will be staged on the road, on trains and buses and at airports. Anybody coming into Belgium after spending more than 48 hours abroad has to fill in a questionnaire about whereabouts, possibly dangerous contacts etc. Many Belgians decided to travel abroad during these Christmas holidays despite calls by the government not to do so. 

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