Policy responses for Belgium - HSRM


Policy responses for Belgium

6. Measures in other sectors

6.1 Measures in other sectors

Many MEASURES IN OTHER SECTORS beyond the immediate scope of the health system are being taken to prevent further spread of the virus. This section contains information on many of these areas, including border and travel restrictions and economic and fiscal measures, among others.

From May 18th people owning a secondary residence in Belgium are allowed to go there. Trips in Belgium are allowed from 8th June. Borders will be re-opened from 15th June (to and from the European Union, including the United Kingdom, and the four other Schengen countries). However, each country alone decides whether or not to open its borders.

Since 9 June 2020, Belgium has classified the different European destinations by colour. Green means that access is free and that Belgians will be able to return without hindrance. Orange indicates that a test upon return is recommended as well as quarantine (2 weeks). Finally, red means that travelling in those regions is forbidden and that a test upon return from these designations is mandatory and accompanied by mandatory quarantine (2 weeks). Since September 25th, travelling in a red zone is no longer forbidden but strongly discouraged and the obligation of quarantine and testing at day 5 can be avoided after approval gained following a self-evaluation questionnaire (see also section 1.5).

Additionally, since July 29th any traveller entering or returning to Belgium must complete an identification form (called the “Passenger Location Form”, available on the FPS Public Health website) indicating the region where they have come from, regardless of the means of transport used (plane, boat, car, etc.). For people who have travelled by a means of transport other than a boat or a plane, this obligation is not required if they stay for less than 48 hours in Belgium or if they return to Belgium following a stay abroad of less than 48 hours.

Since January 27th 2021 (and currently up to April 18th), recreational/tourist travel to and from Belgium is again prohibited. People travelling to and from Belgium must be in possession of a declaration of honour that their travel is for essential reasons (according to a specific template). The declaration of honour must be linked to the Passenger Location Form and be supported by the necessary documents. During the period of the travel ban, only essential travel is allowed (such as for professional reasons, compelling family reasons, humanitarian reasons, study reasons, etc. or for cross-border inhabitants for travel related to daily life activities that are also allowed in Belgium).

Borders and mobility

The Belgian borders were closed for non-essential travel abroad on March 21st upon the decision of the Interior ministry. However, cross-border workers are still allowed to go to work outside of Belgium provided that they can prove their status by producing a certificate from their employer. Border closure does not concern lorry traffic.

Since the beginning of the lockdown (March 13th), internal travel is only permitted in cases of necessity and for urgent reasons, such as work, medical visits, food purchases, pharmacy, petrol station or to help vulnerable people. Travel by car for leisure purposes is not allowed.

Public transport is still in operation, but it must be organised to ensure that the rules of social distancing are respected. Public transport passengers are also asked to respect social distancing as much as possible. From May 4th, when a gradual return to normal will be initiated, all passengers of more than 12 years of age will have to wear face masks. People are not allowed to organise day trips to other parts of the country or to go to a secondary residence (in Belgium).  Nobody is allowed to cross the border, unless for work.

Link to the website of Foreign Affairs: https://diplomatie.belgium.be/fr  

Economy and State Aid

As described in section 5, an Economic Risk Management Group (ERMG) was made operational on March 19th to manage the economic and macroeconomic risks associated with the spread of the coronavirus in Belgium.

Both the federal government and the federated entities have taken several measures to maintain the purchasing power of workers and support businesses and self-employed people who are suffering economic losses as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

These measures are numerous and are regularly updated. The list described in this section is therefore not exhaustive and you are invited to consult the following websites for more details:  the Federal Public Services Economy (https://economie.fgov.be/fr/themes/entreprises/le-coronavirus-et-ses ) and Finance,  (https://finances.belgium.be/fr/entreprises/mesures-de-soutien-dans-le-cadre-du-coronavirus-covid-19) the websites of the national social security office for employers and employees (https://www.onem.be/fr/documentation/feuille-info/e1-0) and for self-employed (https://www.inasti.be/fr/news/difficultes-suite-au-coronavirus ), as well as the websites of the federated entities.

Measures are for example taken for people who become temporarily unemployed because of the COVID-19 crisis, with an increase of the temporary benefits and a simplification of the procedure. From 13 March 2020 to 30 June 2020, the government also allows the temporary unemployment benefit to be combined with voluntary work or a secondary occupation and ensures that interim workers can also claim the benefit.

Measures are also taken for the self-employed such as the possibility to request a one-year deferral of the payment of their provisional social contributions or the possibility to apply for the bridging right, i.e. the granting of a monthly allowance to self-employed people who are unable to continue their activity or are only partially able to do so because of the coronavirus. Self-employed workers who are sick and unable to work for at least eight days are entitled to an incapacity benefit from the first day of illness and in certain cases, they can ask to be exempt from paying social security contributions during the period of illness.

Because self-employed workers are a particularly sensitive risk group during this health and financial crisis, it was decided on February 9th 2021 to launch a new project to support them. The aim will be to provide to self-employed workers in psychological distress 8 free psychological sessions. They will be able to call a free telephone helpline and an alert system will be put in place via sentinels (e.g.  banks, fiduciary companies, social insurance funds, social secretariats, health care providers, etc.) to proactively help them. This project will link up with actors in the field and mental health networks.

A guarantee scheme is also set up for viable non-financial businesses and self-employed, i.e. all new additional credits and credit lines with a maximum maturity of 12 months granted until 30 September 2020 will be covered by this guarantee scheme. The amount of losses incurred will be shared between the financial sector and the public sector according to predefined levels.

Additional support is planned for all companies, whatever their sector or activity, who are experiencing financial difficulties and are able to demonstrate this (e.g. fall in turnover, etc.) These measures could consist of payment plans, exemption from interest on arrears, remission of fines for non-payment, etc.

Other measures have been taken for specific sectors, such as the travel sector for which a voucher of equal value, valid for at least one year, can be granted in the case of cancellation of a package holiday. A similar system is also in place with regard to the events sector.

Incentives are being considered to encourage people who continue and will continue to work, known as a "corona bonus". The idea is to allow companies to pay bonuses to their employees without being subject to social or tax contributions. A bonus is also under discussion for pharmacists, doctors, nurses, and all other health care professions in hospitals.

The federated entities have also taken specific measures, such as subsidies for companies that are obliged to close their business or measures in favour of citizens in challenging situations to ensure their supply of gas and electricity. These measures are numerous and differ between federated entities.

An overview of measures of federal and federated entities on the support of the vulnerable population during the crisis can be found on: https://www.luttepauvrete.be/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2020/04/200409-aper%C3%A7u-covid-19-FR.pdf 

Civil Protection

The measures taken during the COVID-19 crisis impose considerable constraints on individuals, whose rights and fundamental freedoms have been reduced in a way never seen before in times of peace in Belgium.

Urgent actions were required in all the essential sectors including health, but also security, education, economy and justice. The implementation of these actions was complicated in Belgium by the fact that these competences are divided between different levels of power (federal and federated entities) but also by the fact that Belgium was, at the time of the emergence of the pandemic, in the middle of a political crisis, struggling to set up a federal government for more than 452 days. However, rapid and original solutions were implemented to provide a coherent and concerted response. A large majority of the political parties decided to form, within a few days, an emergency government with the exclusive task of managing the various aspects of the COVID-19 crisis.

The federal parliament also decided, as foreseen by the Belgian Constitution, to activate emergency “special powers”. This mechanism has been used very rarely in Belgium and allows for a significant transfer of power from the parliaments towards the governments. In most of the federated entities, this mechanism has also been applied.

More details at: https://www.cairn.info/revue-courrier-hebdomadaire-du-crisp-2020-1-page-5.htm

• Centre de crise (2020). Actualités. Bruxelles : Centre de crise (https://centredecrise.be/fr, Accessed April 2020);
• FPS Foreign Affairs (2020). Coronavirus. Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs (https://diplomatie.belgium.be/fr, Accessed April 2020);
• FPS Economy (2020). Le coronavirus et ses conséquences. Brussels : Federal Public Service Economy (https://economie.fgov.be/fr/themes/entreprises/le-coronavirus-et-ses, Accessed April 2020);
• FPS Finance (2020). Mesures de soutien dans le cadre du coronavirus (COVID-19). Brussels : Federal Public Service Finance (https://finances.belgium.be/fr/entreprises/mesures-de-soutien-dans-le-cadre-du-coronavirus-covid-19, Accessed April 2020);
• Service de lutte contre la pauvreté, la précarité et l’exclusion sociale (2020). Aperçu des mesures COVID-19, en soutien aux situations de pauvreté et de précarité. Bruxelles : Service de lutte contre la pauvreté, la précarité et l’exclusion sociale (https://www.luttepauvrete.be/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2020/04/200409-aper%C3%A7u-covid-19-FR.pdf, Accessed April 2020) ;
• Bouhon F, Jousten A, Miny X, and Slautsky E L’État belge face à la pandémie de Covid-19 : esquisse d’un régime d’exception. Courrier hebdomadaire du CRISP 2020/1 (n° 2446), p5-56 (https://www.cairn.info/revue-courrier-hebdomadaire-du-crisp-2020-1-page-5.htm, Accessed April 2020) ;
• Walloon Government (2020) Mesures décidées par le Gouvernement wallon.  Walloon Government (https://www.wallonie.be/fr/mesures-decidees-par-le-gouvernement-wallon, Accessed April 2020);
• Vlaanderen (2020). Vlaamse maatregelen tijdens de coronacrisis. Vlaanderen (https://www.vlaanderen.be/vlaamse-maatregelen-tijdens-de-coronacrisis, Accessed April 2020).
• Flemish Agency for Care and Health (2020). Uitbraak coronavirus COVID-19. Brussels: Flemish Agency for Care and Health – Agentschap Zorg en Gezondheid (https://www.zorg-en-gezondheid.be/covid-19, Accessed April 2020);
• AVIQ (2020). Coronavirus 2019. Charleroi : Agency for a Quality Life-Agence pour une vie de Qualité (https://www.aviq.be/coronavirus.html, Accessed April 2020) ;
• Iriscare (2020). Qui est Iriscare? Brussels: Iriscare (http://www.iriscare.brussels/fr/iriscare-fr/, Accessed April 2020);
• Ostbelgienlive (2020). Coronavirus: Fragen und Antworten. Eupen: Ostbelgienlive (http://www.ostbelgienlive.be/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-6711/, Accessed April 2020);
• Personal communication with the FPS Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue: Bevers Tom;
• Personal communication with the FPS Social Security: Moens Dirk.