Coronavirus: Belgium unveils step-by-step plan to lift lockdown restrictions from 4 May

Belgium has unveiled a step-by-step plan to lift lockdown restrictions in just over a week’s time, as several other countries prepare to ease their isolation measures.

The country has implemented similar restrictions to the UK during the coronavirus pandemic, with just food shops, home improvement shops, garden centres and pharmacies allowed to open.

However from 4 May more businesses will be allowed to open and people will be able to meet up with a maximum of two others who do not live with them, but they must also keep a distance and remain outside.

Adults and children aged 12 or above will have to wear masks on public transport and to help produce the masks, shops selling fabric or sewing supplies will reopen.

There have been more than 200,000 confirmed deaths from coronavirus worldwide, John Hopkins University researchers say.

All shops in Belgium will be allowed to reopen from 11 May, under strict social distancing conditions, and schools will welcome back some pupils from 18 May, but classes will be kept to a maximum size of 10.

People will be able to host small gatherings at home from 18 May, as well as visit a museum and go to a hairdressers.

From 8 June, cafes, restaurants and some tourist attractions will start to reopen and trips abroad of more than one day will also begin to be permitted.

Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said: “It is now time to look to the future.

“But COVID-19 has not disappeared, the virus is still with us and it is dangerous for the population. It is absolutely essential that the safety measures are respected during the phase-out period.”

Ms Wilmes said Belgium would need to carry out 25,000 to 30,000 tests per day to withdraw from lockdown.

Belgium has more than 44,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and nearly 6,700 fatalities. More than half of the deaths have occurred in care homes.

Belgium’s slow retreat from lockdown comes as other European countries are also undertaking changes to their isolation measures.

Italy has also earmarked 4 May as the day when lockdown restrictions will be eased, with millions of Italians being able to return to work. Around 26,000 people are reported to have died with COVID-19 in Italy.

Germany, which has the fifth highest number of cases in the world but fewer than 6,000 deaths, has already allowed smaller shops to open. Schools are due to restart from 4 May.

France, where more than 22,000 people have died, and the Netherlands, where fewer than 4,500 people have died, have both earmarked 11 May as the day when their restrictions will be eased.

Spain – which declared a state of emergency on March 14 and has reported more than 22,500 deaths – said that from Sunday children under the age of 14 will be able to socialise outside for up to one hour.

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