Belgium confirmed Wednesday the country will relax some lockdown measures, including a partial reopening of schools, amid encouraging numbers on COVID-19 infections and deaths.
The National Security Council, made up of politicians and experts, announced that schools will reopen part-time from next Monday for some elementary and secondary grades. Nursery schools will remain closed.
The government had previously said reopening schools was its goal, provided the situation continues to improve.
Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès also made a surprise announcement: Hair salons may open by appointment starting on Monday.
Last week, Belgium began to slowly relax its coronavirus restrictions, allowing the reopening of shops and indoor gatherings of up to four people.
The second phase, starting next Monday, affects not just schools. Museums and zoos may reopen under certain conditions, which include issuing tickets online and social distancing. Outdoor food markets may also reopen if local authorities give their green light and if social distancing is maintained.
The government said it’s preparing an exit strategy for the rest of the cultural sector.
The next important phase starts June 8, when decisions about tourism, restaurants and bars are expected. Socializing in larger groups may also be addressed. The government isn’t expected to make any announcements on those measures until the week before, however.
“There will probably not be a return to normality before the summer,” Wilmès said. “Our strategy will be continuously evaluated in the coming weeks.”
“I know some people are worried about a second wave,” she added, referring to the concern that if countries move too quickly, the virus could return again. “It’s a scenario we can never rule out. That’s why we monitor the situation day after day and prepare to take immediate action if necessary.”
Earlier Wednesday, Steven Van Gucht, who chairs the scientific committee that advises the government, said the “trends remain hopeful.”
The total number of deaths in Belgium is now 8,843, with the daily numbers reported far lower than they were in early to mid-April. The number of patients is intensive care is also declining and is now down to 420.