Severity: Critical Alert

Exit/Entry: Authorities in Belgium impose tighter COVID-19 measures in Antwerp Province July 28; curfew in effect 2330-0600.

  • Alert Begins: 28 Jul 2020 11:09 AM UTC
  • Alert Expires: 12 Aug 2020 11:59 PM UTC
  • Incident: COVID-19 restrictions
  • Location(s): Nationwide (map)
  • Time Frame: Indefinite
  • Impact: Significant business and travel disruptions

Authorities in Antwerp Province have imposed additional measures to stem the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as of July 28, in response to the province's worsening epidemiological situation. A 2330-0600 curfew is in effect, during which residents must remain at home unless traveling for work or medical attention. Face masks must be worn in public and at times when individuals are unable to maintain a social distance of 1.5 meters (5 feet). Individual contact sports and adult team sports are prohibited; children may still engage in team sports. All catering establishments must ensure social distancing between tables. Authorities are strongly advising residents of the province to work from home, where possible. Additionally, officials are prohibiting all cultural and festive events in the worst affected municipalities, including Antwerp, regardless of participation levels. All gyms and fitness centers are also closed.

National authorities previously announced a tightening of COVID-19 restrictions from July 29 due to the country's increasing rate of infection. Indoor venues will have a limit of 100 and outdoor venues will have a limit of 200. Private social gatherings from different households are now limited to five people, down from 15 people previously. Residents can only enter shops individually and must complete their shopping within 30 minutes; people with children under 12 years of age are exempt.

Belgium had been steadily removing COVID-19 measures before the aforementioned announcements. Authorities have lifted entry restrictions on travelers from most EU and Schengen Area countries and the UK. However, arrivals from high COVID-19 activity zones within Portugal, Spain, and the UK currently require a COVID-19 test and 14-days of self-isolation. Nonessential travel from other countries remains prohibited, and any arrivals will also require testing and 14 days of self-isolation; exceptions include diplomats, health workers, and cargo transport staff. Most nonessential businesses, including professional services, salons, and retailers, have reopened, provided they comply with strict hygiene and social-distancing requirements. Outside of Antwerp Province, leisure facilities, cultural venues, and fitness centers have also reopened.

All restrictions are subject to amendment at short notice in response to government reviews and may receive updates or extensions in the coming days.

Background and Analysis
As countries relax blanket restrictions across Europe, authorities could begin to reintroduce sporadic, targeted measures in response to local COVID-19 outbreaks. Such measures could apply to local government areas, neighborhoods, or even specific facilities, including schools, factories, or accommodation and office blocks. Mandatory social distancing procedures in public places and on public transport, as well as widespread voluntary "self-policing" by residents, will assist in reducing the potential for contagion, likely negating the necessity for a large-scale, blanket reintroduction of significant restrictions.

The easing of restrictive measures undertaken by Belgium is similar to actions taken by other governments throughout Europe in response to a decrease in COVID-19 infection rates. COVID-19 is a viral respiratory disease caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (previously known as 2019-nCoV). Symptoms occur 1-14 days following exposure (average of 3-7 days). These symptoms include fever, fatigue, cough, difficulty breathing, sometimes worsening to pneumonia and kidney failure - especially in those with underlying medical conditions.

Follow all official instructions. Abide by national health and safety measures. Reconfirm all travel arrangements. Consider delaying traveling if experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19, as they may prompt increased scrutiny and delays. Liaise with trusted contacts for further updates and guidance. Maintain contact with your diplomatic representation. Ensure contingency plans account for further disruptive measures or extensions of current restrictions. Reconsider and reconfirm nonemergency health appointments. Plan for queues and delays at available shopping centers.

Emphasize basic health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. Practice good coughing/sneezing etiquette (i.e., covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue, maintaining distance from others, and washing hands). There is no evidence that the influenza vaccine, antibiotics, or antiviral medications will prevent this disease, highlighting the importance of diligent basic health precautions.

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