Managing the health situation, start of the school year for all and outlook
The National Security Council extended to include the Minister-Presidents met on Thursday 20 August to take stock of the epidemiological situation and to determine the measures that should be extended and those that could be relaxed.
In addition to managing our health situation, the measures in place in recent weeks were aimed at safeguarding the start of the new school year - in other words, getting the circulation of the virus sufficiently under control to allow all children to return to school.
All pupils will therefore be able to return to school, at all levels of education, on the basis of the "code yellow" issued by the communities. As a reminder, code yellow means that the virus is still present and active, but the situation is under control. This system will allow for a normal school week consisting of five days, provided certain health measures are respected, such as pupils over 12 years of age and teachers being required to wear a face mask, and the suspension of certain extracurricular activities in secondary education.
In addition to this system that applies to everyone, in municipalities experiencing peaks of infected people, the Ministers of Education can decide to move to code orange. Under that colour code, certain changes are made, such as a reduced number of school days for the third through sixth years of secondary education. Parents, children and teachers will be informed by the schools.
For higher education institutions, as the academic year starts later, consultations are still underway to harmonise the rules that will apply to student campuses.
From the 1st of September and for a period of one month:
- The social bubble of 5 people - i.e. people with whom citizens have close contact - will continue to apply, under the same conditions as in August. Contacts with other people while respecting the safety distance are still limited to 10 people at a time.
- General measures concerning social contacts are difficult to sustain in the longer term. We have to be able to move out of crisis management mode and enter a long-term risk management mode. We need to be able to come up with a new to maintain our social contacts, in a sustainable way. To make sure we can do so in the most normal way possible while protecting everyone's health, Celeval's experts - with the support of other specialists such as psychologists - were asked to give priority to this issue.
- Receptions after a funeral can take place with a maximum of 50 people, in accordance with the rules that apply to the hospitality industry. The next NSC will address the issue of a possible relaxation of the rules for receptions in general.
- As far as shops are concerned, people can now shop in pairs (these two people can be accompanied by a minor who is living under the same roof of one of these two people or a person in need of assistance) without any time limit. Naturally, we still rely on people using their common sense to avoid crowding. Unlike the other measures, which enter into effect from 1 September, this measure will apply from 24 August.
- With regard to public events, the maximum number of people admitted to public events - sporting events, theatres, cultural activities, places of worship, conference centres or auditoriums - will be extended to 200 people indoors and 400 people outdoors. Wearing a face mask is still mandatory as well as respecting the safety rules and protocols. To provide for more flexibility to professionals - provided safety rules are respected - this rule may be deviated from after consulting with the mayor and provided the competent ministers approve.
- People who have been physically separated in recent months because they come from different countries and who can provide proof of a lasting relationship but are not married will be able to cross the border from 1 September. These people will be subject to the same testing and quarantine rules as all others.
Concerning travel, since 1 August, all persons entering Belgium after a stay abroad of more than 48 hours have to fill in the Passenger Locator Form, allowing for the traveller to be traced. Furthermore:
- Anyone returning from a red zone must be tested and stay in quarantine even if they do not show symptoms.
- If the person comes back from an orange zone, these measures are recommended. However, this recommendation should be taken seriously, especially if the person returning from an orange zone has had risky contacts.
- Also, we call on people to co-operate actively with the regional call centres who may contact them for the purpose of contact tracing.
The evolution of the health situation will, as always, be closely monitored and a new NSC will be held next month. The long-term goal is to move out of crisis management mode and enter a long-term risk management mode.