May 6, 2020 / 2:54 PM / a month ago

Belgium to open shops and allow Mother's Day meetings

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 6, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/Pool

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgian shops will be allowed to open from Monday and people will be able to host others at their homes from Sunday, opening the door for Mother’s Day celebrations, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said on Wednesday.

The country of 11.5 million people, among the European nations worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, began easing lockdown restrictions at the start of this week, allowing businesses that do not have contact with consumers to restart.

Belgium, whose capital Brussels hosts the headquarters of the European Union and the NATO military alliance, has 50,781 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 8,339 deaths. However, the rate of new cases, hospital admissions and deaths has fallen steadily from early April peaks.

From Sunday, Mother’s Day, Belgian families will be able to host up to four people, and always the same people, at their homes while respecting a social distance. Ideally, this would be outside, such as in a garden or on a terrace.

“I recognise this does not replace the pleasure of being able to embrace someone you love, but we cannot do more for the time being,” Wilmes told a news conference

The day after, all stores will be able to open, although they will have to limit the number of shoppers inside and make changes to protect staff. Shoppers are strongly encouraged but not obliged to wear masks.

Markets cannot reopen. Cafes, restaurants, sports, cultural centres and tourist sites will also have to remain closed. Sports competitions will not restart before August.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Giles Elgood

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