1.2 Physical distancing
From November 2nd, a new lockdown began, including the closure of non-essential shops. Compared to the first lockdown of March 13th, restrictions on schools and on travel and outdoor activities are less strict. The list of essential services that can remain open is also different. After an additional week of holidays (up to November 15th instead of November 8th), schools remain open for all children below 13-14 years old (i.e. below the second level of secondary school), with additional protective measures. For students in the second and third levels of secondary schools (+/- 14-18 years old), half of their education is done remotely. For higher education levels (university, etc.), education must be provided remotely (except for students in the first year).
Concerning outdoor activities, while during the first lockdown (March 13th to June 8th 2020), internal travel was only permitted in cases of necessity and for urgent reasons (travel by car for leisure purposes was for example not allowed), internal travel was allowed in the second lockdown (but was then banned again on January 27th 2021, see section 6). Cross-border travel is also not prohibited but it is strongly discouraged. Checks on the obligation to fill in the Passenger Location Form (see section 6) and on compliance with quarantine rules for travellers entering Belgium from red zones are expected.
The possibility to have one close contact outside the household and to meet three other people outdoors (maximum in a group of four people) while respecting safety measures (i.e. masks, physical distancing), decided on October 19th, are conserved. On November 27th, it was announced that isolated persons will be allowed to have two close contacts (instead of just one) in their home during Christmas time (only for one day on either December 24th or December 25th). Furthermore, shops are allowed to reopen from December 1st under strict conditions (such as having a maximum of one client per 10 m²) but services such as restaurants, bars and hairdressers must remain closed.
On February 5th 2021, it was also decided to re-open non-essential professions gradually, i.e. hairdressers from February 13th 2021 and other professions such as beauty, massage or nail salons from March 1th 2021.
From March 8th 2021, outdoor activities are permitted as well as activities for young people. While the number of close contacts indoor remain limited to 1 person (see above), outdoor contacts were extended. From March 8th, people are allowed to gather in groups of 10 outside (while still respecting safety measures, i.e. masks, physical distancing). Additionally, organised activities (sports and other) for children and young people are now allowed for groups of maximum 10 (for indoor activities) and 25 (for outdoors activities) for children aged less than 13 years old, and for groups of maximum 10 (for outdoor activities) for young people aged less than 19 years old. For funerals or burials, there is a maximum of 50 people, as long as a space of 10 square metres per person is provided.
While additional enlargements were foreseen, it was decided on March 19th to postpone them due to a large increase in the number of cases.
Because of an increase in the number of cases of COVID-19, new restrictions have been taken from July 29th (with multiple revisions up to the end of October), i.e. restrictions on:
• The number of close contacts people can have outside their household (i.e. for more than 15 minutes, without a distancing of 1.5m and without a facemask, see also section 1.4): from July 29th, close contacts have been restricted to 5 people (this contact should always be the same people for the next four weeks, for an entire household rather than per person; children under 12 years old are not included). From October 1st, the limit of a maximum of 5 people remains but at an individual level rather than per household, meaning than each individual of an household can choose 5 close contacts for one month. This was not a mandatory measure but rather a highly recommended measure and that maximum of 5 contacts should be considered as a reference to follow. These close contacts have been restricted to three from October 9th and to one person outside the household from October 19th.
• For non-supervised gatherings, such as gatherings with family and friends: from July 29th these are limited to a maximum of 10 people (not including children under 12). For these gatherings, safety measures must be respected (i.e. wearing a mask or physical distancing of 1.5m). Up to September 30th, this limit also applied to receptions and banquets but from October 1st there was no limit on the number of people if the event was organised by a professional, who has to follow the same rules as restaurants. From October 9th, the limit became restricted to 4 people and from October 19th, receptions and banquets organized by a professional were also prohibited (except in hotels for guests staying there and for receptions in the context of funerals, with a maximum of 40 people).
• For supervised gatherings (e.g. sports competitions) in strict compliance with the safety rules and protocols provided by municipalities: a maximum of 100 people indoors (200 from September 1st) and 200 people outdoors (400 from September 1st and then 200 from October 19th) can be accepted, in strict compliance with defined protocols.
• From October 19th: Cafés and restaurants are again closed but takeaway is still possible up to 10pm. Night shops must close at 10pm and the sale of alcohol is prohibited after 8pm. It is forbidden to be on the public highway between midnight and 5am, except for essential and non-deferrable travel. Smaller markets and fairs remain allowed (except flea markets and Christmas markets), but the consumption of food and drink is prohibited. The obligation to wear a mask has also been extended to include all events and areas with a high concentration of people, where secure physical distancing cannot be met (this also applies outdoors). These high concentration areas are defined by the municipalities. It should also be noted that in some municipalities, the obligation to wear a mask was extended everywhere, even in outdoor areas with a low concentration of people. These rules were defined at the national level but federated entities and provinces can take stronger measures.
Recommendations were issued by both the federal and federated entities as of March 10th (https://www.info-coronavirus.be/fr/news/protegez-vous-et-protegez-les-autres/)
• Avoid handshakes and hugs, avoid exposing vulnerable people (especially by keeping children away).
• Avoid gatherings of more than 1,000 people (banned in the Brussels Region by the Joint Community Commission (Gemeenschappelijke Gemeenschapscommissie - GGC; commission communautaire commune - COCOM) which regulates and manages health matters in the Brussels Region)
• Sick people should stay at home
• Schools should postpone trips, people should avoid travelling abroad (banned in the Brussels Region, by the COCOM) and people should stay away from fragile people (e.g. not engage in inter-generational activities)
• Companies should promote teleworking
Mandatory measures were issued by both the federal and federated entities as of March 13th
• Closure of all schools (with the exception of day care for children of ‘essential workers’ and for those who can only be cared for by their grandparents). The crèches remain open, with priority for the children of essential workers.
• Closure of colleges and universities with distance learning courses whenever possible
• In nursing homes, homes for older people and residential settings for people with a handicap, all visits to residents were prohibited, except in specific situations, i.e. palliative care or death (starting from March 10th according to the federated entities). Also, day care centres had to be closed. These measures were slightly softened on April 15th, by allowing a relative (always the same person and asymptomatic for the last 14 days) to visit older/disabled persons in residential settings under very strict conditions.
• Cancellation of all recreational activities (sports, cultural, etc.) and religious ceremonies (except funerals for immediate family). Summer festivals were cancelled until August 31st.
• Closing of cafés, restaurants, clubs, etc. Take-away sales and home delivery are still allowed.
• Closure of non-essential shops for the weekend (followed by a total closure from 18/03)
• Some shops can remain open with an obligation to respect the rules of social distancing (of 1.5 metres): food shops, pharmacies, bookshops, gas/fuel stations; with limitation on the number of customers in large stores (1 customer per 10 square metres). On April 15th this was enlarged to include hobby and garden shops and waste disposal sites (with the same rules).
• Mandatory teleworking for all non-essential businesses; if not possible, mandatory social distancing rules. If this is not possible, companies must close.
• Maintenance of public transport but with the obligation to ensure social distancing.
• Outdoor physical activities remain permitted, alone, with cohabiting family members or with one friend (at social distance). Otherwise, it is prohibited to be in public spaces, except in cases of necessity and for urgent reasons such as going to the doctor or pharmacy, food shopping, providing assistance and care to older people and vulnerable people, or for business trips, including commuting to and from work.
• Prisons: all forms of visits were cancelled.
Transition measures for physical distancing from May 4th
On April 24th the National Security Council decided that the physical distancing measures would be progressively lifted from May 4th, and follow an evolving schedule.
From May 4th it is strongly recommended to wear protection to cover the mouth and nose in public spaces and when a physical distance cannot be guaranteed. Wearing a mask on public transport is compulsory from May 4th, from the moment a passenger over the age of 12 enters a station or arrives at a stopover point. In workplaces, wearing a mask is compulsory when maintaining a physical distance is not possible. It is also foreseen that initiatives would be implemented so that every citizen can receive at least one fabric mask and two filters to be incorporated into masks already acquired or made up.
From May 10th (Mothers’ day in Belgium) families are allowed to receive 4 people at home but these 4 people should always be the same and they must only enter one household. The aim is to keep a minimum number of silos and to ensure the greatest possible reciprocity. This measure was enlarged to 10 different people per week on June 8th and to 15 different people per week on July 1st.
Schools (e.g. primary, higher education, etc.) - The return to school started gradually from May 18th with very strict distancing measures. Each federated entity worked out how this decision should be put in practice, in consultation with the sector. Consequently, the return to school was variable and most of the time partial. Kindergarten classes were not allowed to restart until June 2nd. Primary schools are allowed to restart fully from June 8th. School attendance is nevertheless not mandatory.
Workers (e.g. essential workers, childcare workers, etc.) - No change for essential workers. For other workers, see below.
Businesses (SMEs, restaurants, etc.) - For B2B enterprises and industry, teleworking will be maintained whenever possible (no end date is foreseen). A general guideline will serve as a basis for sectoral or company-level agreements to be concluded for those where social distancing is not possible.
Reopening of shops on May 11th (whatever the size and the sector), but under strict conditions for the organisation of work, reception of customers and limitations on access to avoid crowd effects. These conditions have been defined in consultation with the sectors and the social partners. Conditions include, one client per 10 square metres, no more than 30 minutes in the shop, etc. Measures are also taken to manage queues on the streets.
Professions involving physical contact (such as hairdressers) could resume their activities from May 18th with very strict distancing measures and disinfection between each client.
Restaurants, cafés and bars are allowed to reopen from June 8th under strict conditions (1.5 m between tables, 10 people maximum per table, waiters wearing a mask, closure at 1.00am, etc).
Travel (local, cross-border, etc.) People were not allowed to organise day trips to other parts of the country but from May 18th they were allowed to go to a secondary residence in Belgium. Trips within Belgium are allowed from June 8th and borders reopen from June 15th.
Gatherings (events, informal gatherings, religious services, etc.) - The possibility of allowing private meetings at home has been opened to 4 persons from May 10t. From May 18th up to 30 people were allowed to attend wedding and funeral ceremonies, but the parties thereafter were still forbidden. From June 8th, religious celebrations were allowed with a maximum of 100 people (200 from July 1st).
Museums reopened from May 18th with online ticketing, quotas per hour and predefined circuits for visitors. Cinemas, theatres and concert halls remain closed until July 1st. Re-opening was then allowed but under strict physical distancing rules, and with a maximum of 200 people inside, or 400 people outside (these figures are to be doubled in August).
Summer festivals (music, theatre) are all cancelled until August 31st.
Sports activities - From May 4th people are allowed to practice outdoors and participate in non-contact sports activities (contact activities allowed from July 1st). However, if these activities require infrastructure, access to changing rooms and communal showers as well as to cafeterias is still prohibited. Team sports are allowed from May 18th in the open air, in agreed clubs and under strict conditions and indoor activities (without contact) from June 8th. Competitions could restart on June 8th but without public (allowed from July 1st for a maximum of 50 competitors and 200 persons as public). Swimming pools all also reopen in July.
Prison visits are allowed again from May 25th, but only one visit per prisoner per week, preferably always the same person, with physical distancing. For one-off events in public spaces, an online tool (matrix) was made available on July 1st that can serve as a reference for local authorities in assessing whether to grant authorisation or not.
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• Centre de crise (2020). Actualités. Bruxelles: Centre de crise (https://centredecrise.be/fr/news)