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Coronavirus: Belgium lockdown lift a guide for Spain, UK and Germany

The Belgian government has announced a gradual easing of lockdown restrictions from 4 May, providing a rough guide for other European countries.

Coronavirus: Belgium lockdown lift a guide for Spain, UK and Germany

Belgium, along with Germany, Austria, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal, is among the European countries looking to ease lockdown restrictions put in place to combat the coronavirus pandemic as soon as possible. Belgium has been hit particularly hard by Covid-19: Europe's administrative capital has registered more deaths per capita than any other country in the world with 57 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants and a total of 6,679 as of 25 April. That represents more overall deaths than China has officially reported and four times as many per capita as the United States. 

However, Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmés has announced a gradual easing of restrictions in the country of 11.5 million people starting from 4 May with schools scheduled to reopen on 18 May. 

Wilmés told a press conference after a cabinet meeting on Friday that Belgium's "return to normality" would be rolled out in stages and would depend on the "spread of the virus, the number of new hospital admissions and the number of people in intensive care units." 

Belgium's announcement came as Spain decided children under the age of 14 would be allowed out for short walks after weeks of confinement as of 26 April, an indication that Europe's worst-affected country is preparing to further ease restrictions in the coming weeks. Other European countries will be watching Belgium closely as quarantine measures are eased there almost three months after the first reported case in the country on 4 February. Here is how Wilmés' administration intends to phase the process. 

Phase one: Masks in public and home-work still recommended

As of 4 may, anyone over the age of 12 who uses public transport will have to wear a face mask, or at the least cover their mouths and nose with a scarf or similar. The same restrictions will be enforced at workplaces where minimum distancing requirements cannot be guaranteed. Still, the government recommends home work wherever possible as of the same date. 

Industry, services and medical practices to reopen

Also on May 4, professional services, the industrial sector and doctors' surgeries will open up again. Belgians will also be allowed outside for longer periods to exercise as of the same date and with certain restrictions lifted. For example, people will be allowed to exercise in pairs as long as they respect social distancing or are from the same household. Non-contact sports such as tennis, golf, running and fishing will be permitted. 

Phase two: schools and businesses

As of 11 May, it is expected that all businesses regardless of size and sector will be allowed to reopen with the exception of the hotelry sector, which will remain closed. A week later, on 18 May, primary and secondary schools will reopen with a maximum of 10 children per classroom, distancing measures in place and the obligatory use of masks for children aged 12 or over. 

Museums are also expected to be opened again under strict conditions and larger gatherings of people will be permitted in homes and for funerals and weddings, although exact details are yet to be published.  

A child wearing a protective face mask walks in the countryside near Harinsart, Belgium, 25 April 2020.
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A child wearing a protective face mask walks in the countryside near Harinsart, Belgium, 25 April 2020.JULIEN WARNANDEFE

Phase three: "hypothetical" bars, restaurants and travel

As Wilmés stated, the third phase remains purely hypothetical and is scheduled for 8 June. If the coronavirus figures remain in decline and health experts agree, the reopening of bars, restaurants and cinemas will be considered. 

After that the Belgian government will consider national travel for holidays and reopening tourist attractions but mass gatherings for events including sports and music festivals will not be authorized before 31 August