Belgium Abolishes Wearing Masks and Shortens the Quarantine Period

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(— September 24, 2020) —  Despite the steady increase in the number of people infected with COVID-19 in Belgium, which had already been hit hard by the virus, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès said on Wednesday that the mandatory wearing of masks outdoors and the already shortened period of self-isolation would be abolished, the Brussels Times reports.

Wilmès said Belgian residents should learn to live with the virus, but warned of “broad easing” of basic rules on social distancing.

“We are in the phase of risk management,” the prime minister said after the meeting of the National Security Council. “Some rules will be relaxed because they are no longer useful or sustainable.”

Starting next month, in Belgium, it will not be mandatory to wear a mask outdoors, except in places where it is very crowded and where it is not possible to adhere to social distance. The government is also reducing the mandatory quarantine period from 14 days to a week for people with COVID-19 symptoms who end up with a negative virus test.

Although a maximum of 10 guests will remain the rule for private gatherings, parties on the other hand as well as weddings hosted by professional organizers will not be subject to restrictions.

“The virus is still present, but life must continue in an adapted way and an attempt must be made to control the epidemic,” Wilmès said.

The Prime Minister also announced that everyone will be able to have close physical contact with a maximum of five people outside their household for one month.

“These are people you can hug, with whom you can eat and drink and be very close to each other,” she said.

Her statement confused leading Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst. Last week, Belgium recorded an average of 1,374 new cases of infection per day. At the beginning of July, there were just 80 cases a day. In the meantime, the number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 has also increased.

“When you look at the numbers, it’s certainly not the time to relax. You don’t need to be a great virologist to predict that the numbers will increase in the coming weeks,” Van Ranst said.

The Prime Minister said that the Belgian authorities are working on designing an “epidemiological barometer”, a tool that will take into account a number of factors and which will be used to adjust the restrictions on virus control depending on the situation at state, provincial and local levels.

As of Friday, Belgium will no longer ban travel to destinations marked as high-risk due to the virus.