Picnic time! Belgium begins easing coronavirus restrictions

Belgians can more than double the size of their outdoor social circles from Monday, meeting with a maximum of 10 people rather than the current limit of four, the government announced.

But they will have to wait before the indoor bubble of one (or knufflecontact) can finally be burst.

A week after dampening hopes that relaxations were on the way, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced the loosening of measures on Friday.

The country’s leaders had given themselves a week to monitor infection and hospitalization rates before making a decision. The figures remain high, but the huge spike anticipated last week did not occur. 

The small amount of extra freedom outdoors comes after the country faced pressure from youth groups to relax the measures.

But maintaining the indoor restrictions is unlikely to be well-received; last week, Jean-Marc Nollet, president of French-speaking green party Ecolo, a member of the governing coalition, admitted he has been allowing two people into his house for some time.

Universities will resume in-person classes as of March 15, and students will be able to attend in person one day a week. Day trips will also be allowed for primary and secondary pupils.

Funerals can be attended by up to 50 people (it was limited to 15). April and May will see a resumption of a wider range of outdoor activities. Starting from April 1, events and religious gatherings of up to 50 people can take place outdoors, with attendees wearing masks. Amateur athletes can exercise together in groups of up to 10 outside.

Lifting the ban on non-essential travel within the European Union was also discussed at the consultation committee Friday: all non-essential travel to and from the country will remain prohibited until April 1, with the ban re-evaluated on March 26. When coming to Belgium, non-residents are required to present two PCR tests; one ahead of departure and one upon arrival. Belgians who test positive have to isolate for 10 days.

After April 19, secondary school students will be able to return to class full-time, ending distance learning.

May could see the re-opening of the wider cultural sector, including bars, restaurants and events, although controls would remain in place.



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