Coronavirus in Belgium: The latest developments
Belgium recorded zero coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours, for the first time since 13 March. The latest figures from Sciensano report five deaths in the past 72 hours, but Belga reports that none of those five deaths occurred on Monday. Over the past seven days, the daily average number of confirmed new coronavirus cases was 95.3, an 11% increase on the previous week. Some 138 people are being treated in hospital, including 23 in intensive care.
Interfederal spokesman Yves Van Laethem says there are two reasons why the number of new infections is slightly on the rise. On the one hand, more screenings are being carried out. On the other hand, some people have let their guard down and resumed a normal social and working life. Van Laethem says: “There has clearly been an increase in the number of cases in the last two weeks but it is among relatively young people, aged 10 to 50, mainly in the provinces of Antwerp, Limburg and Liège. It has not led to more hospitalisations – it’s a group of people who experience little or no symptoms. The problem is that they are vectors of the disease, which could have an impact on more fragile people.” He added that we are currently in the region of 10 to 12 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days. “It is only from about 20+ that we have to start asking questions,” he said. “In other words, don’t panic but let’s not let our guard down, it’s not over.”
Travellers returning to Belgium from an “orange zone” will, finally, not be advised to self-isolate. Belgium’s communication around travel restrictions, and the “traffic light” system has been confused over the past week, at a time when many travellers need certainty about a planned summer trip. If returning from an orange zone, you should keep a close eye on your health, maintain all the usual “barrier gestures” and contact your GP at the first sign of any potential symptoms.
One of Belgium’s leading coronavirus experts has warned that the country’s complicated governmental structure means Belgium is not prepared for a possible second wave of the virus. Virologist Erika Vlieghe, who chairs the expert panel on Belgium’s coronavirus measures, told the Flemish parliament’s coronavirus committee: “There must be a captain on the deck of the ship. We have met many people at all political levels, but no one knows who is allowed to press which button.”
Pairi Daiza has chosen to cut the maximum number of people allowed in the animal park at one time, after several people posted photos on social media of crowds at the weekend. “We were operating at just 30% of our normal capacity,” a spokeswoman said. “But despite having 85 hectares of space, there are still places where visitors gather in large numbers, especially in front of the panda enclosure.” Security guards monitor CCTV at all times and tannoy messages are regularly broadcast to remind visitors of the rules. The park also has 30 “corona stewards” walking around, who can intervene when necessary.
The mayor of Puurs-Sint-Amands, Antwerp province, says he will not allow a repeat of Sunday afternoon’s mini-festival in the municipality, which had been organised as “a test” and had local authorisation. Nearly 400 partygoers turned up to enjoy live music in the Park Fort Liezele (400 is the maximum limit), without masks or social distancing. Mayor Koen Van den Heuvel said organisers had followed all the rules, but “at one point, the attendees left their tables and started dancing very close to each other on stage. It was absolutely not what we had planned. This festival was a test. We wanted to give the event organisers a chance, but this is not something we will be repeating.”
From Tuesday, the Brussels region will have eight of its 15 municipal swimming pools open. Calypso 2000 in Watermael-Boitsfort reopened on Monday, with advance booking required. Sportcity in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre will join on Tuesday, with prior booking for a maximum 50 swimmers, and no more than 45 minutes in the pool. The other pools that are open are: Laeken, Marolles, Etterbeek, Saint-Josse, Saint-Gilles and Ganshoren. Next week, Neder-Over-Heembeek should follow. In August, Molenbeek, Woluwe-Saint-Lambert and Anderlecht are expected to reopen. Uccle and Evere will not be much further behind. Ixelles and Schaerbeek remain closed for renovation work.
A Belgian man is suing the Belgian state and the Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products for refusing to allow coronavirus antibody self-testing kits in pharmacies. Unlike in France, the test in Belgium has to be prescribed by a GP. It costs €9.80. The man taking legal action against Belgium is reportedly in his 60s and considered at-risk. “Being able to access the test would avoid stress,” his lawyer said. Interfederal spokesman Yves Van Laethem said: “Roughly 40% of people lose the coronavirus antibodies after two months, so a negative test now does not necessarily mean that you did not come into contact with coronavirus in March, for example. And this test does not tell you if you are protected for the future. It shouldn’t give people a false assurance.”
Millions of cloth facemasks ordered by the federal government are still sitting in pharmacies, waiting to be picked up free of charge. About 3.5 million of the 15 million masks delivered have been picked up. One member of a family can collect masks for the whole household. Just bring your ID card.
Wearing a mask has been made compulsory in all Belgian shops, cinemas, museums and libraries, since 11 July. Theatres, concert halls, conference venues and places of worship are also included in the new rules, which apply to anyone aged 12 and over. More details here…
A Delhaize spokesman said it was “not our employees’ job to enforce the measure. Our staff are already under pressure, we don’t want to put extra pressure on them by asking them to play police.” He added: “We have five million customer visits every week, so it’s very difficult to check everyone. We are not going to deny access, but we will call the police. As an employer, we have a responsibility towards our personnel.”
Colruyt and Aldi will supply a free disposible mask to customers who forget in the first week. Several local police zones approached by RTBF have said they will prioritise dialogue – and an informal caution – before imposing any fines for failing to wear a mask in a shop. The possible fine is €250 for individuals and €750 for stores that repeatedly ignore the rules.
With many big events cancelled, the City of Brussels is renting out unused tables and chairs to the city’s restaurants and cafes. The initiative aims to help eateries wishing to expand their terrace, without having to make a big purchase. The surplus equipment will be available until the end of September, and cafes will only have to pay the bill at the end of the season, once they have handed it back. See www.rockthecity.be
New data from Sciensano shows that, of the 8,343 care home residents who tested positive for coronavirus between 8 April and 18 May, about three quarters of them showed no symptoms. ULB expert Yves Coppieters says widespread coronavirus testing in retirement homes must continue, in order to detect cases early.
Liège university hospital has reopened its drive-in coronavirus testing facility. It is capable of carrying out 250 tests a day, and on average 2% of the tests are coming back positive.
Malta has confirmed it will allow travel from Belgium from 15 July. Finland allowed Belgian travellers to enter the country from this Monday. Read our updated travel advice guide here…
Explaining the latest measure, prime minister Sophie Wilmès said: “We see that the numbers are stagnating at the moment, but what mattered most to us was to have a clear and unanimous opinion from the experts. We always base our decisions on expert opinions. We hope one day to have neither to restrict our freedoms, nor to have to wear a mask: that is the medium-term objective. If the epidemic were to resume, we could take additional measures, whether in terms of wearing a mask, closing things, restricting freedoms. It’s not fun but it may be a day required.”
Police in Knokke-Heist made five administrative arrests on Thursday night, after hundreds of people gathered on the streets after the bars closed. The local police chief is in favour of extending the closing time from 1.00 to 3.00 in the morning to better spread out the flow of people and avoid masses of people leaving bars at the same time.
Belgium’s national security council will meet again on Wednesday (15 July). The meeting will, among other topics, discuss the current restrictions on trade fairs, after the industry sector successfully complained to the Council of State, forcing the Belgian state to make a decision no later than 15 July.
King Philippe on Thursday visited Liège Airport, which has positioned itself as a European hub for the supply of protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic. More than a billion masks have passed through the airport since the outbreak began, plus gloves, protective gowns, respirators and test kits destined for numerous European countries, and coming mostly from China. In addition, Liège is also a hub for the UN’s World Food Programme, sending medical and humanitarian material to African nations.
Hunger will kill more people than coronavirus this year, Oxfam has warned. The NGO has identified 10 “extreme famine” hotspots around the world, where the situation is worsening because of the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is “undermining an already faltering global food system, exposing millions more to starvation”. It pointed to mass unemployment, disruptions to the food supply chain and declining funding for humanitarian aid.
Police broke up an illegal rave party in Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, just outside Brussels, on Friday night. It is reported that 150 partygoers were present, who fled as soon as they saw police arrive. A local police spokesperson said the organisers had been identified and faced prosecution. The generator supplying power to the sound system was seized.
A citizens’ initiative called Coronadenktank is looking for nominations for “corona heroes” who have gone out of their way to help others during the crisis. Four of them will be invited to a special event with King Philippe at the royal palace in September.