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Belgium Will Open Bars and Borders as Virus Infections Fall

ForexJun 03, 2020 12:09PM ET
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© Bloomberg. Bicyclists ride near the Berlaymont building in Brussels, Belgium. Photographer: Olivier Matthys/Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) --Belgium will reopen bars and restaurants next week and lift border restrictions for European Union and British citizens from June 15, as coronavirus infections fall faster than expected, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday.

People will be allowed close contact with 10 individuals per week from June 8, up from the current four. Bars and restaurants can stay open until 1 a.m., but there will be a cap of 10 people at each table and waiters must wear face masks. Short overnight trips within Belgium will also be permitted from next week and travel within Europe, including the U.K., is allowed from mid-June if other countries allow entry.

“From June 8, we can reason differently and the starting point is our freedom,” Wilmes said at a press conference. “Everything will be possible, apart from the activities that are excluded.”

Belgium’s partial lockdown from March has saved the health system from being overwhelmed as more than 4 out of 10 available beds in intensive care units remained vacant even at the peak of the outbreak in April. But the restrictions on social contacts have had a crippling effect on the economy and public finances of the country that hosts the EU’s main institutions.

The death toll in the country of 11.4 million people currently stands at 9,522, with more than half of those fatalities occurring in senior care homes. Adjusted for population, this is the highest death rate in the world.

Cinemas and theaters can now reopen on July 1, with a cap of 200 people in the audience. Nightclubs will stay closed until at least the end of August. Football matches and other sport contests as well as most mass events won’t be allowed to restart for the time being.

Social distancing measures, such as wearing facemasks, are still strongly recommended and people should avoid handshakes and a kiss on the cheek, Wilmes said.

Economic Impact

Weekly surveys by employer federations have shown that more than a quarter of the Belgian economy was still at a standstill in late May, as measured by lost revenue in all industries combined, with only one in eight businesses expecting that third-quarter revenue will match or surpass pre-crisis levels, and 60% of those surveyed forecasting a smaller workforce by the end of the year.

The economic contraction, and the government’s fiscal response to fight the fallout of the recession, will cause Belgium’s public debt to balloon to a two-decade high of about 115% of gross domestic product by year-end, according to National Bank projections in early April, assuming the restrictions wouldn’t last longer than seven weeks.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

Belgium Will Open Bars and Borders as Virus Infections Fall

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