(Mar. 19, 2020) On March 18, 2020, the Belgian minister of Security and the Interior issued an executive order imposing mandatory confinement measures in an effort to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents are required to stay home and are allowed to leave only for one of the following reasons:
- To go to a business that is authorized to remain open (listed below)
- To go to an automatic cash dispenser or to a post office
- To seek medical attention
- To help or care for an elderly person, a minor, a disabled person, or other vulnerable person
- To travel for professional reasons, including commuting between home and workplace
- To go to an event or activity involving a small number of relatives, such as a funeral ceremony
- To go for a walk outdoors or to exercise; this may be done in the company of other relatives who live under the same roof, and/or no more than one friend, so long as a distance of at least 1.5 meters is maintained from this friend.
All public gatherings and group activities are forbidden. This includes religious ceremonies, with the exception of small ceremonies involving a close familial circle, such as funerals. All schools are to be closed, except for childcare centers. University classes may be taught only remotely.
All commercial businesses except for the following are to remain closed to the public:
- Stores that sell food, including convenience stores
- Stores that sell pet food
- Gas stations
- Hairdressers and barber shops, except that they will be able to serve only one customer at a time, by appointment only
- Hotels, except for their restaurants
While restaurants may not serve food to be consumed on their premises, food delivery and takeout are authorized. Furthermore, supermarkets must ensure that they allow only one customer per 10 square meters inside. Customers may spend no more than 30 minutes at a time in a supermarket or grocery store.
Any nonessential travels outside of Belgium is forbidden. Furthermore, all workers whose jobs may be done by telework are required to do so. Workers in noncritical businesses and institutions whose jobs may not be done by telework may go to work only if they can keep a separation of at least 1.5 meters in their workplace, including in any transportation organized by their employer. Noncritical businesses that cannot ensure those conditions must close. The executive order includes an appendix that lists all businesses and institutions deemed critical, and which are therefore exempt from having to close. These include businesses and institutions involved in providing medical care, telecommunication services, waste collection and treatment, law enforcement and security services, judicial and legislative institutions, taxis and public transportation, agriculture, businesses involved in the food industry and food distribution, and several other crucial sectors.
Violations of these measures are punishable according to article 187 of Loi du 15 mai 2007 relative à la sécurité civile (Law of 15 May 2007 Regarding Civil Security), which provides for between eight days and three months of jail time, and/or fines of between 26 euros (about US$28) and 500 euros (about US$547). Law enforcement authorities have indicated that they intend to send a strong signal to the population that violations will not be tolerated. “Any person who does not respect the prohibition on gatherings will be sanctioned immediately,” according to a statement by the Belgian federal police.