The consultative committee grouping Belgium’s six governments that has the final say on corona restrictions has decided that you will only be able to shop at non-essential stores with an appointment. Large stores e.g. Ikea will have to limit numbers to 50. Mayors will have the job of ensuring shopping streets don’t get too busy.
Outdoors no more than four people will once again be able to gather together instead of 10 at present.
Contact professionals like barbers, hairdressers and beauticians will have to close.
All measures start Saturday and apply for the next four weeks.
Kindergartens will remain open, but starting Monday primary and secondary schools will close. Exams that are planned will be able to go ahead. Schools are supposed to reopen after the Easter break.
The ban on non-essential travel abroad remains in force. Border checks are being stepped up during the Easter break.
The government is also seeking greater compliance with mandatory homeworking for all who can do this. Extra checks are promised.
Lieven Boeve, head of the Roman Catholic schools’ network, says that primaries can’t be expected to organise distance learning in only two days. Remote teaching there isn’t an option for him.
Meanwhile, the Christian education union has called on parents to keep kindergarteners a home. “It’s incomprehensible that kindergarten staff are supposed to remain in the firing line” a union official said.
“Because kindergarteners have a lot of difficulty sticking to corona measures, kindergartens are par excellence a crossroads of human contacts and infections” said Marianne Coopman.
Belgian hairdressers are massively disappointed non-medical contact professionals have to halt their activities. They are upset because the lockdown isn’t universal and non-essential stores are allowed to stay open and receive customers by appointment. “We’ve been working by appointment for a long time” says Christ Maenhout, the chair of the hairdressers’ federation. “We were working according to a strict protocol and are now being punished in part. We fear our sector will be hit by tragedy.”
Lora Nivesse of the retailers’ association Comeos is not a happy bunny: “Shopping by appointment is better than zilch, but we are disappointed that our sector, where there are no safety issues, is being hit yet again. It’s disappointment rather than relief. The question is: will shops be profitable under these restrictions? For big shops, where access is limited to 50 people, this won’t be the case. Putting this system into practice by Saturday is sheer impossible. Extra support is absolutely needed”.
Explaining the need for the measures federal prime minister De Croo (Flemish liberal) said: “Virus levels in circulation have reached their highest levels in four months. Pressure on hospitals in high. It begs the question: how long will they be able to keep this up?”
Putting the measures in context he added “It’s a drag, but taking a different decision would have had exceptionally serious ramifications”, a clear reference to fears about delays in regular health care. “We have opted for short pain, a kind of pause for Easter”.
Flemish leader Jan Jamon (nationalist) said: “I had high hopes we could have put greater restrictions behind us and retained control of the situation. But if you don’t succeed, you need to act. The measures are a blow, but they are limited in time. We have no choice. We need to keep up his effort for a few more weeks. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccinations are proving their worth. Bring on large supplies!”
Flemish education minister Weyts (nationalist) is disappointed by the fresh restrictions in education: “Keeping Ikea open and closing schools isn’t my idea of society”.
Mr Weyts insisted the whole education sector together has been slogging hard to keep schools open in a safe way adding his conviction that as a society education should be prioritised: “Children are not the engine of the pandemic. I am proud the Flemish government stuck to its guns in wanting to keep schools open, but we stood alone. Hitting children to keep shops open… I just don’t get it.”