May 13, 2020 / 2:10 PM / 18 days ago

Belgium set to reopen schools, markets, museums and zoos

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgian schools will partially reopen and markets, museums and zoos will also be allowed to operate again from next Monday, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said on Wednesday, in a further easing of the country’s two-month coronavirus lockdown.

Belgium's Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes holds a news conference after a meeting of the National Security Council discussing post-lockdown measures amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brussels, Belgium, May 13, 2020. Eric Lalmand/Pool via Reuters

Belgium, with a population of 11.5 million, is among the European nations worst hit by COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, but it began a phased easing of the restrictions at the start of May.

Wilmes said the reopening of non-food shops this week had proceeded smoothly even if there were now queues outside some stores.

“We have taken a new step, for some too big, for others too small. Improvements are coming, but we must be patient. We cannot do everything at once,” Wilmes told a news conference.

Belgium, whose capital Brussels hosts the headquarters of the European Union and the NATO military alliance, has so far reported 53,981 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 8,843 deaths.

However, the rate of new cases, hospital admissions and deaths has fallen steadily from early April peaks and the government’s team of health experts on Wednesday described the trend as “encouraging”.

From next Monday, primary and secondary schools will restart smaller classes of final-year pupils under strict social distancing rules.

Museums, historical buildings and zoos can also admit their first visitors from Monday, although they will have to sell time-specific tickets online and set up a one-way system showing how people must move through their rooms and galleries.

Hairdressers and beauty salons will reopen for appointments only. Markets comprising up to 50 stalls will be allowed, with masked stall-holders and one-way systems of passage marked out.

Sports clubs will resume training in the presence of a coach and with no more than 20 people present. Libraries too can reopen.

However, cafes, restaurants and sports and cultural centres will have to remain closed for at least another three weeks. No sports or cultural events will take place before June 30.

“There will not be a return to normal life this summer,” Wilmes said.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, Editing by Marine Strauss and Gareth Jones

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