Belgium is further loosening its lockdown restrictions, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès said Wednesday, but she had harsh words for those who have been ignoring the restrictions and holding big parties.
Swimming pools, amusement parks, casinos, cinemas and theaters can reopen from July 1, with 200 people allowed to gather inside and 400 outside if safety measures are respected.
The National Security Council, made up of representatives of Belgium’s different governments, also agreed to allow an increased number of social contacts. Belgians are currently allowed to see up to 10 people outside their household every week. This will be expanded to 15, Wilmès said.
However, the rules have proven difficult to enforce, with a number of mass gatherings held in recent weeks. That includes a party attended by hundreds of students at Place Flagey in Ixelles last Saturday, footage of which was widely shared on social media.
Politicians and virologists called on citizens to display more civic solidarity, with fears that students celebrating the end of their exams and the current good weather will lead to more mass gatherings in the coming days.
Wilmès condemned the party at Flagey, saying she was “shocked” and that “whoever was there directly or indirectly endangered the effort of the past months.”
She also warned the danger of a second wave has not passed, referring to Germany, where a regional lockdown was announced Tuesday affecting more than 500,000 people. Belgium will take preparations for such a scenario, she said.
There will be no change in the advice on wearing face masks, Wilmès said. At present, they are compulsory only on public transport, but she noted: “Only if the epidemic flares up again [could the] wearing of face masks in crowded public spaces become mandatory.”
Over the last week, Belgium has reported a daily average of 93 infections, 16 hospitalizations and five deaths. All these numbers are down on the week before.
Despite initial worries, a Black Lives Matter protest in Brussels on June 6 attended by up to 10,000 people does not appear to have affected the Belgian numbers. While social distancing was nearly impossible at the event, the vast majority of participants did appear to be wearing masks, which was not the case at the recent parties.
Meanwhile, no final decision has been taken on the reopening of schools in September. The regional governments, which are responsible for education, plan to open all nursery and primary schools in September, with secondary schools potentially reopening on a reduced schedule.