Belgium has this week started to ease its coronavirus lockdown step by step, with additional exit measures scheduled to be introduced on May 11, May 18 and June 8.
Restrictions will be relaxed gradually across different aspects of everyday life — from businesses to schools and spare time activities. However, in some areas, the nature of relaxations will differ from region to region.
Here’s a guide to Belgium’s exit roadmap.
Phase 1 — May 4
Economic and industrial activities between businesses (B2B) can resume, but the government recommends that teleworking be continued where possible. People who must go back to work will have to follow strict rules such as wearing face masks at the workplace.
Public transport is open and operating according to the regular schedule, but only recommended for people who don’t have an alternative and outside peak hours. Face masks are mandatory for people older than 12, as soon as they enter a station.
More generally, face masks are recommended where it is difficult to keep 1.5 meters distance from others.
Also as of this week, non-individual sports will be possible as long as no close physical contact is required. According to guidelines published by the government’s Crisis Center over the weekend, “walks and physical activities … in the open air which do not involve physical contact,” are allowed, although social distancing rules still apply to people who do not live under the same roof.
“After carrying out these activities, the return home is obligatory,” the guidelines say. It is still forbidden to settle in a park to sunbathe or have a picnic. “Private and public activities of a cultural, social, festive, folkloric, sporting and recreational nature are prohibited.”
However, Belgians are now able to “see a second friend or family member, always the same, under certain conditions,” Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès said on Twitter Sunday. “We will have to resume our social life very gradually, although of course I wish it were different,” she said.
Places of worship remain open, provided that social distance measures are respected, but most religious ceremonies cannot take place — with some exceptions. Funerals can be held as long as no more than 15 people attend them and social distancing is respected, while weddings can only be attended by the spouses themselves, their witnesses and the minister.
Shops that sell certain fabrics will be able to open to customers — a week ahead of all other shops — aimed at making it easier for Belgians to adhere to the mandatory mask-wearing on public transport.
Phase 2 — May 11
Other shops will be allowed to reopen from this date, although strict hygiene rules remain in place to minimize the risk of infection. Reopening will be possible “without discrimination based on size or sector,” the prime minister said.
However, “the necessary measures must be taken to ensure that social distance measures are respected, in particular the maintenance of a distance of 1.5 meters between each person,” although that does not apply to people living in the same household, such as parents and their children.
It will be the shop owners’ responsibility to make sure that social distancing guidelines are respected by their customers.
Phase 3 — May 18
Classes at school will resume part-time and only for selected years, with a maximum of 10 pupils per classroom. All staff and kids older than 12 will be required to wear face masks. Children and staff should wash hands when entering school, when entering the class, after sneezing and after using a drinks or snacks distributor.
Education in Belgium is governed by the country’s Flemish and Francophone language communities (both active in Brussels), which have significant discretion over how rules are applied. In true Belgian tradition, education networks (such as the Catholic or community networks) or individual schools have interpreted the rules differently when providing practical guidelines, making it even more complex for parents.
In Flanders, classes resume for the first, second and last (sixth) year of primary school and the last (sixth) year of secondary school. In the Francophone part of Belgium, only the last years of both primary and secondary schools will partially reopen May 18. The first and second year of primary school and the second year of secondary school may reopen May 25.
Kindergartens and nursery schools stay closed, at least until the end of May.
Ever since the closing of the schools at the start of the lockdown, schools were obliged to offer daycare for kids whose parents work in a number of crucial professions. Although some schools have told parents that concerned only health care (or supermarket) workers, the official list is actually much broader, including (but not limited to) journalists and communication professionals, judges and lawyers, diplomats or staff of international institutions.
On May 18, daycare will be, in addition, accessible for children whose parents “don’t have other options” to take care of their kids while they work. The problem is that if this very broad category is added to the kids who will resume their classes on the same date, it could become difficult for some schools (especially in big cities) to guarantee the strict social distancing rules.
Potential phase 4 — June 8
Whether the country will announce an additional easing of restrictions on June 8 — nearly 14 weeks after restrictions were first introduced — is still tentative.
This could include the reopening of restaurants — but not yet bars or night clubs — as well as more liberal policies when it comes to tourist activities. “We want to try to give you as many clear perspectives as possible, but guarantees are impossible,” Wilmès said in April.
Non-essential travel outside and into Belgium remains prohibited until at least this date.