13 april 2021
The Consultation Committee is inclined to follow the cautious road to freedom that Corona Commissioner Pedro Facon has mapped out. It will probably have to wait until June, when the over-65s and at-risk patients have been vaccinated, to make things more flexible and to restart the catering industry completely.
The federal and regional top ministers will discuss the relaxation of the corona measures on Wednesday at the Consultation Committee.
- The Consultation Committee will consider relaxing the corona measures on Wednesday.
- There is a political consensus that the schools will reopen on April 19. Pupils of the second and third stage of secondary education must still partly follow online lessons.
- The stores can reopen on April 26, and probably also the contact professions. However, there is still discussion about the modalities.
- For relaxation in the open air and the reopening of the terraces, it remains to be decided whether this will happen on 1 or 15 May.
- Relaxation inside and the full reopening of the catering industry are probably only before 7 June.
The vaccination rate determines the speed: the more people are protected against the virus with a syringe, the more corona lines can be released. Politicians seem to largely follow the proposal. An overview of what is on the table:
April 19: Return to schools
Most students are allowed to sit in the classroom again. Only in the second and third stages of secondary education, pupils still have to follow the lessons online for half the time. It is also being examined whether the rules for organized youth activities can be relaxed.
The ban on non-essential travel will also expire on April 18 and under European pressure it will not be extended. Returns to the map with red zones, where those who return from such a red area must be tested and quarantined. Currently, Portugal and parts of Spain are the only non-red areas in Europe where Belgians are welcome with a negative corona test.
April 26: Reopening of the stores
Only in the second and third stages of secondary education, pupils will still have to follow the lessons online half the time.
Normally, hairdressers and beauty salons are also allowed to reopen, although the question is whether specific requirements, such as testing, are set due to the relatively high risk of contamination.
The curfew may also end on April 26. Flemings and Walloons now have to stay in between midnight and 5 a.m., Brussels residents between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. There is a lot of protest against the curfew because it is very far-reaching for a democracy. To avoid corona parties, the ban on gathering together – a maximum of four people may come together – remains in force.
What still threatens to lead to political discussion are the test events. Various culture houses and sports organizers are asking for, after the Dutch example, to resume their activities with very strict measures and with extensive testing.
The Flemish government and the MR are prepared to go a long way in this, but there is certainly resistance from Minister of Health Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit). He wants guarantees that the test events are study projects and not an excuse to accelerate the opening of entire sectors.
May 1, 8 or 15: the outside plan
Facon is aiming for additional relaxation on 15 May, provided that the occupancy rate is sufficiently reduced at intensive levels. All over-65s must be vaccinated by then. But then activating the outdoor plan and having the cafes and restaurants completely restarted and implementing relaxation for sports or cultural activities in indoor spaces is too much, according to the corona commissioner.
The focus will be on the outside plan. The virus is much more difficult to pass on in the open air. More than four people would be allowed to meet outside, playing a contact sport together outside should be possible again and the amusement parks could reopen. Consideration is also being given to return times for employees who are obliged to work from home.
If it depends on the Flemish government, the terraces will open earlier than the day after tomorrow.
Political controversy is still expected about the exact timing for the implementation of the outer plan. If it depends on the Flemish government, the terraces will open earlier than the day after tomorrow. The idea is that, now that the weather seems to be improving, people will go outside anyway and sit on a patio in a controlled manner rather than hanging around everywhere.
In the federal government there is no agreement on the course to be followed. The French-speaking liberals of the MR are aiming for May 1, the French-speaking socialists are going for May 8, and other parties are more inclined to wait until May 15, as Facon proposes. It is probably the most difficult political knot that the Consultation Committee will have to cut on Wednesday.
June 7: reopening of the catering industry and interior plan
Further relaxation, such as the full reopening of the catering industry, will be postponed to June. By then all at-risk patients must have been vaccinated, so that – in Facon’s words – we can afford a little more risks. If the outdoor plan were to go into effect on May 15th and the three-week rule would be applied, it would mean a reopening on June 7th. That date is still open to discussion.
Also for indoor and outdoor events – including cultural and sports activities with an audience – it usually remains to wait until June. The same applies to worship services, although an additional exception may have been made earlier for funerals, where a maximum of 50 people may now be present.
It is still about relaxation under certain conditions. As long as not everyone is vaccinated, keeping a distance will remain the norm everywhere. At the cafes and restaurants, a maximum of four people per table is expected. A maximum of 500 people would be allowed at events for the time being. This is a bitter pill to swallow for the catering industry and event organizers. Politicians will consider how aid measures can bring relief.