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Coronavirus : Belgium outlines its exit strategy

Press Release of the Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès

Based on the recommendations of the Group of Experts in charge of the Exit Strategy (GEES), the National Security Council met today,Friday 24 April, at Egmont Palace to determine the coronavirus exit strategy. As a reminder, since 12 March, the federal government and the federated entities have together taken a series of measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 in our country. Encouraging indicators such as the reduction in the number of daily hospital admissions or the flattening of the mortality curve now make it possible to gradually start phasing out these measures. However, the government emphasises that the virus is still with us and remains dangerous for the population.

The strict confinement measures will remain in place until 3 May at the earliest. Following that date, Belgium may start phasing out the measures, if circumstances permit.

The measures set to remain in force

It is important to emphasise that certain measures will remain in force, regardless of the de-confinement phase we find ourselves in. Measures such as:

  • Limiting contact between people;
  • Respecting social distancing;
  • Good hygiene practices, also called “barrier gestures”.

Covering mouth and nose

The covering of mouth and nose will form part of good practice during this de-confinement phase. This can be done with a so-called comfort mask or an alternative means of protection such as a scarf or a bandana. This will be:

  • strongly recommended in public places;
  • compulsory on public transport from the age of 12. This measure will enter into force on 4 May.

A face mask alone does not provide adequate protection, it must be considered in the context of the wider use of face masks, hygiene measures and social distancing.

The federal government and the federated entities will ensure that each citizen will receive at least one standard cloth protection to cover the mouth and nose free of charge. People will also be given two “filters” to put into masks already bought or made. Surgical masks and FFP2 masks will continue to be reserved for healthcare professionals, residential care centres, residential facilities and the security services.

Employers, including those in the public sector, are responsible for providing protective equipment to their employees where necessary.

The use of public transport

Gradual phasing out will inevitably lead to an increase in the use of public transport. To avoid having too many people on public transport, people are recommended to:

  • travel by their own means of transport (walking, cycling, car, etc.), in order to give priority to those who need public transport the most;
  • avoid rush hours.

Workplace

In terms of work organisation, the Group of Ten has validated a general Guide to Good Practice. This will serve as the basis for concluding sectoral or company agreements. It will also serve as a reference for a progressive relaunch of the economy under safe and secure conditions for all.

Lockdown exit strategy

1. Phase 1 – a (4 May)

  • For industries and B2B services

Remote working will remain the norm. If companies are unable to comply with social distancing requirements, they will be able to compensate by following a series of health recommendations, including wearing a mask.

  • For shops and the hospitality industry

The rules remain the same, with the exception of fabric shops, which, given their important role in the production of mouth masks, are allowed to be open.

  • For the health care sector

In recent weeks, the epidemic has had a significant impact on the provision of healthcare, both in primary care and in hospitals. Working groups are already investigating how they can respond to the need to continue to provide the best care to people infected with Covid-19 while gradually and safely increasing access to general and specialised health care. The aim is to ensure that everyone regains ‘normal’ access to health care as soon as possible and that the medical infrastructure needed to care for people suffering from the virus is not overstretched.

  • As far as daily life is concerned

Outdoor physical activity will be allowed for a maximum of two people in addition to those living under the same roof, provided social distancing is observed.

It will also be allowed to practice other outdoor non-contact sports. However, access to changing rooms, communal showers and cafeterias will remain prohibited.

2. Phase 1 – b (11 May)

  • For shops

This phase will allow all shops to reopen at the same time, without discrimination on the basis of size or sector, in order to give everyone the same chances of success. This will, of course, be subject to certain conditions which will be determined in consultation with the sectors and the social partners.

There are three types of conditions with regard to:

  • organising the work,
  • receiving customers,
  • and restricting access to the store to avoid overcrowding.

Shops relying on physical contact (e.g. hairdressers) will continue to remain closed in this phase.

  • For daily life

The future of sports competitions will be clarified in the short term.

3. Phase 2 (18 May)

  • For shops

It will be investigated whether and under which conditions professions relying on physical contact can resume their activities, subject to conditions.

  • In terms of culture

The opening of museums may also be considered during phase two, subject to conditions. For example, through a ticketing system.

  • For daily life

Team sports will be possible outdoors, but only in a club context and with respect for certain instructions.

  • In terms of education

Lessons will resume gradually as from 18 May. Not all students will go back to school immediately.

Each community will be responsible for executing this decision in its own territory, in consultation with the education sector.

Certain avenues will also be explored, such as:

  • the possibility of holding private meetings at home;
  • the possibility of allowing for more people during weddings and funerals;
  • allowing more than two people to be active outdoors together;
  • the possibility of organising day trips to certain regions of the country.

4. Phase 3 (from 8 June at the earliest)

Multiple points will be considered:

  • The possibility of gradually reopening restaurants and, in a later stage, also cafes, bars and the like, all under strict conditions.

  • Various summer activities such as trips abroad, youth camps (to be decided at the end of May), internships, tourist attractions also small-scale open-air events.

However, major events will remain prohibited until 31 August.

Conditions to succeed:

Testing and tracing will play an important role in ensuring that the exit strategy takes place under the best possible conditions.

As far as testing is concerned, the intention is to offer a laboratory test to all people who need it, i.e. anyone who has symptoms and who the doctor suspects may be infected, people who have been highly exposed to the virus by their profession and people who have had close contact with an infected person.

Our laboratories will have 25,000 PCR tests by 4 May, and capacity could be increased to 45,000. To support the execution of the tests, both public and private laboratories as well as the federal platform will be deployed.

Medical equipment will continue to be delivered and sufficient stock is available.

Serological tests, tests that detect immunity, will also play an important role.

For tracing, a coordinated strategy will be set up between the Regions and Communities, with the support of federal experts.