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Belgium to ease coronavirus measures ahead of festive season

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Belgium will ease its coronavirus restrictions next week, with shops allowed to reopen. Bars and restaurants, however, will remain closed.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said at a press conference on Friday that shops can open again on Tuesday. (Stores deemed non-essential were closed on November 2). However, people must go shopping alone and can’t stay in one store for more than 30 minutes. The new measures will apply until January 15.

Museums and swimming pools can also open on Tuesday.

On Christmas Eve, the start of curfew, currently 10 p.m. in Wallonia and Brussels, will be pushed to midnight. Households can invite one extra person over to celebrate Christmas, and people who live alone are allowed to invite two guests. No such relaxation of the rules will be applied on New Year’s Eve, and fireworks will be banned.

Winter trips and journeys to red zones are strongly discouraged. There will be more controls at the borders to make sure quarantine is respected and the so-called passenger locator form is completed. De Croo said he was in touch with the Swiss and Austrian governments to ask for a closure of ski resorts, a measure both those countries are against.

“If we take ill-considered measures, we will jeopardize everything we have put in place over the last four weeks,” said De Croo. He added that Christmas should not be “the beginning of a new catastrophic year.”

A long-awaited barometer to gauge the seriousness of the crisis across regions has had a rejig, with two distinctive phases: the current phase, and a second phase in which measures will be eased. To make such a switch, three conditions will have to be met: there must be no more than 800 new infections per day, no more than 75 hospital admissions per day, and these trends must continue.

The slight loosening of the rules comes as the overall health situation improves. According to official figures, an average of 2,765 infections per day were recorded between November 17 and 23 — a significant decrease on the week before.

The announcement comes amid tension within the Belgian government between ministers who wanted a relaxation of measures and those who wanted to keep the current restrictions in place.

The interior minister, the Flemish Christian Democrat Annelies Verlinden, warned last weekend that police could enter houses on Christmas Eve “if necessary, in case of noise pollution, for example.”

On Wednesday, David Clarinval, the minister in charge of small businesses, said the reopening of businesses and restaurants was a “matter of life and death.”

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