Belgium is taking a number of strict additional measures to combat the rapidly rising coronavirus figures, announced Prime Minister Alexander De Croo during a press conference on Wednesday.
“The figures have risen sharply, and hospitals are wondering how long they can continue to do so,” De Croo said. “This evolution is one that we see in our country, but also in our neighbouring countries, where it also leads to strict new measures.”
“This was a difficult decision to make, but I am convinced that any other decision would be even more difficult,” he added. “In our hospitals, people are starting to postpone more and more necessary care. Nobody wants that.”
“The Consultative Committee has therefore opted for the short pain: one could call it an Easter pause, of four weeks with broad measures,” De Croo said.
These measures will apply from Saturday 27 March, and will remain in place for at least four weeks.
From Monday, there will be no more in-person education, and primary, secondary schools and higher education will switch to distance learning. In secondary school, exams can still go ahead under certain conditions. Kindergartens can remain open.
From Saturday, non-medical contact professions, such as hairdressers and beauty salons, have to close again.
Non-essential shops can only receive clients by appointment. If necessary, a maximum of one additional person can join, but only if both are part of the same household.
People will only be allowed to meet outdoors in groups of four, and no longer in the so-called “outdoor bubble” of ten people.
Teleworking remains compulsory, and there will be “additional controls and stricter penalties” for companies who do not follow the rule.
The ban on non-essential travel will also remain in force over the Easter holidays.
The current curfew remains in place, and non-essential journeys within Belgium will remain allowed.
“We have been able to keep the virus on a plateau for months, and we will be able to overpower this third wave as well,” De Croo said. “There is also hope: the vaccinations are going faster and faster. By the end of March, all over-65s and at-risk patients should have received their first shot subject to delivery.”
“The virus has brought us back down to earth in recent days. This is a lesson in humility. For policymakers, for experts, and for all of us,” he said. “It is in our nature to make plans, but unfortunately, it is in the nature of the virus to mess them up. But our goal remains a summer of freedom.”
Maïthé Chini & Lauren Walker
The Brussels Times