Following a National Security Council (CNS) meeting held on Friday, April 24, the government of Sophie Wilmés announced a three-phase timetable to lift lockdown measures imposed to contain Covid-19 spread, starting from May 4.
“COVID has not disappeared, the virus is still with us and it is dangerous for the population. It is absolutely essential that the safety measures are respected during the phase-out period,” the Prime Minister said at a press conference.
The decision was based on a report submitted by the country’s Group of Experts for an Exit Strategy (GEES), which included recommendations for the gradual deconfinement and reopening of the country’s economy.
Wilmés said that the decision is not absolute, and that the transition period will be monitored and evaluated based on several criteria, such as hospital admissions, capacity in intensive care units and the spread of the virus. This could lead to another extension of the lockdown measures, if needed.
The government pledged to provide at least one protective mask for every citizen, highlighting that their use is strongly encouraged, in particular in places where social distancing is not possible. It will also increase testing capacity, with the aim of conducting up to 25,000-30,000 PCR tests per day.
Phase 1A / May 4
Under the new rules, public transport will resume normal activities from May 4, however citizens are encouraged to use their own means of transport. Wearing masks will be compulsory in trains, metros, trams and buses, and to this end, fabric shops will open on May 4, to assist with the production of protective gear. While teleworking remains the norm, there will be a gradual return to work.
Social gatherings at home remain prohibited, however, cycling or strolling as a group of three, even with people not living under the same roof, will be allowed. Sports played in pairs and in open air will be allowed, but social distancing will need to be respected.
Phase 1B / May 11
All shops will be allowed to reopen, under strict social distancing conditions, that will be clarified next week, following consultation with GEES.
Phase 2 / May 18
Primary and secondary school will restart, with some classes allowed and being kept to a maximum size of 10. Classes in kindergartens are suspended until the end of May.
Day-trips within Belgium can be considered, people will be able to host small gatherings at home, visit a museum under conditions and go to a hairdresser.
Phase 3 / June 8
While this phase has not been decided yet, if the situation is evaluated positively, restaurants and cafes could gradually reopen under strict conditions.
Summer internships, travelling abroad, smaller open-air events and the reopening of tourist attractions will be considered at the end of May. So far, all major events, sports and cultural are prohibited until August 31.
Belgium is among the countries worst-hit by the pandemic, having recorded, as of publication, more than 46,000 cases and 7,200 deaths.