Masked Belgians begin cautious exit from lockdown

Belgium began a cautious easing of its coronavirus lockdown on Monday, allowing some businesses to reopen while obliging all passengers on public transport to wear a mask under a new rule to minimise the risk of a new outbreak.

The country of 11.5 million people, among the worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, has until now only permitted food shops and pharmacies to operate throughout the crisis, and more recently home-improvement and garden centres.

On Monday, 150,000-300,000 people were expected to resume work in businesses that have no contact with consumers, such as manufacturers, although remote working is still encouraged.

All adults and older children taking public transport were obliged to wear a mask from Monday, on pain of a 250-euro($273.30) fine. Shops selling fabric and sewing supplies were also allowed to open to allow the public to make their own masks. Some supermarkets also began selling surgical masks.

The public may also now expand their range of leisure activities beyond walking, jogging and cycling to include sports where physical distancing is possible – such as tennis, golf or kayaking.

The government has outlined a phased removal of restrictions. Next week, all shops will be allowed to open and the week afterwards schools will start to receive some pupils.

Belgium has confirmed 50,267 COVID-19 cases and 7,924 deaths from the highly contagious respiratory disease. But the rate of increase of new cases, hospital admissions and deaths has fallen steadily since peaks in early April.

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