On 22nd January, Belgium’s Consultative Committee decided to ban non-essential travel abroad until 1 March. Entering into force today, this measure will only exclude those who will travel for professional or family reasons.
Residents in Belgium returning from abroad will have to sign a declaration on honour that their travel was indeed essential.
“It has been clear since the beginning of this week” that Belgium was heading towards a ban on non-essential travel abroad, but the terms of the measure had yet to be discussed, said Deputy Prime Minister Georges Gilkinet (Green Party – Ecolo). It is “difficult to define what is non-essential travel, but it must be clear to everyone that this will not be the time for sightseeing during the next Carnival vacation,” the minister added.
“The coronavirus situation in our country has stabilised,” said Prime Minister Alexander De Croo during the press conference. “Our figures are better than in most other countries in Europe, thanks to our perseverance.” “However, that does not mean that the danger is over. We have seen that there are some new variants, that are highly contagious. That is why we have to build dams,” he said.
“Let this be clear: we are not building a wall around our country,” he said. “Coming and going is still possible, but there will have to be a good reason.”
1. Respect the rules
With the current threat of variants of the coronavirus, “a reason for concern for everyone”, De Croo recalled the rules of social distancing and hygiene, but also the importance of maintaining teleworking.
2. What about the traveler arriving to Belgium?
As of Monday 25 January, all travelers returning from the United Kingdom, Argentina and South America will have to respect a 10-day quarantine, with testing on day 1 and day 7. Travelers who are not Belgium residents will have to show a double negative PCR test, on departure and on arrival in Belgium. Additionally, the mandatory isolation period for those who test positive for Covid-19 is now increased from 7 to 10 days.
3. Essential travel
Whilst it is not an all border closure or travel ban, travel will only be allowed under six specific cases considered essential. These are the following:
- Business trips.
- Cross-border commuters will still be allowed to cross the border without quarantine for up to 48 hours for activities that are also allowed in Belgium.
- Humanitarian reasons: assistance to an elderly, minor or vulnerable person or a person with a disability, visiting relatives in palliative care, and relocations for medical reasons and continuation of medical treatment.
- Travelling for studies: travel of pupils, students and trainees on exchange within the framework of their studies, as well as researchers with a hosting agreement.
- Compelling family reasons: family reunification, visits to a spouse or partner who does not live under the same roof (if plausible evidence of a stable and lasting relationship can be provided), trips for co-parenting, civil and religious weddings, funerals or cremations (of relatives or next of kin).
- Various: care for animals, journeys within the framework of legal obligations (if they cannot be made digitally), urgent repairs within the framework of the safety of a vehicle and moving house.
4. Contact professions
Hairdressers, beauticians and other non-medical contact professions will be able to open again on Saturday 13 February – only if the figures evolve favourably. The final decision on whether the reopening can happen will be made on Friday 5 February at the next meeting of the committee. The situation regarding holiday parks and zoos will also be evaluated then.
5. Appeal to the Belgian youth
During today’s press conference, De Croo sent a strong message to the Belgian youth “We are aware that you are living through a difficult period. If things get difficult, talk about it. Everyone gets tired of this, I do too. Talking about it helps. We need you, to beat the virus and to rebuild a normal life.. “
Since announcing the new ban on non-essential travel, Belgium has faced criticism. The decision is a push beyond the current recommendations at an EU level, and European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders wants Belgium to explain what it was thinking.
Reynders stated, “There is a freedom of the Member States to go further or less far, but it is important to have very strong coordination. This decision must therefore be explained and justified. Concerning its legality, in the end, the control is done by the judicial authorities”.
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo faced no opposition from heads of state or government, with some even expressing support for the measure when he made the original announcement, however.