Belgians will soon be able to grab a beer with up to 10 friends as the country relaxes its lockdown, but that doesn’t mean things are back to normal, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès cautioned Thursday.
“We’re in a health situation that allows us to deconfine further, but it doesn’t mean we’re back to where we were before COVID-19,” Wilmès told Belgian news channel LN24. “The virus is still here, and can kill more people if we don’t respect some conditions.”
The Belgian government on Wednesday announced the country will enter a new phase toward deconfinement, effective from June 8. That’s thanks to the “encouraging” indicators on the spread of the coronavirus, which Wilmès said signaled better progress than the government or experts had expected.
“Freedoms are now the rule, and prohibitions will be the exception,” she said.
That includes a shift from the much-debated rule allowing every household to come into contact with a circle of just four people: Now everyone will be able to socialize with up to 10 people each week and gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed.
Restaurants and bars will be allowed to open under specific conditions and trips within Belgium will be possible again. Sports activities that do not require close contact with others may also resume, but not those such as football or judo.
The government plans to drop border restrictions on June 15.
Wilmès emphasized her first priority is to deal with the health crisis, while bolstering support measures for dealing with the fallout of the pandemic and forming a new government over the summer are also high on the agenda.
Wilmès originally became prime minister in a caretaker role, and the emergency powers that parliament granted her government to tackle the pandemic expire this month. By the time parliament resumes in September, she is obliged to seek another confirmation vote.
Coming up with a package of support measures could be achieved over the next two weeks, she told LN24, while striking a government deal will be more delicate. Wilmès said a fresh election is still on the table, though she said this would be “a collective failure,” highlighting the inability of parties to come together to reach agreement.
Hanne Cokelaere contributed reporting.