Belgium eases lockdown, plans to open terraces in May

BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgium is planning to reopen restaurants and bars for outdoor service next month and to lift a night-time curfew as new COVID-19 cases continue to go down in the country.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo made the announcement on Wednesday following a seven-hour meeting with regional leaders who struggled to find a compromise.

Bars and restaurants have been shut down since mid-October because of the pandemic but their owners have been lobbying to reopen and protesting in recent weeks. Barring a new surge in cases, De Croo said they will be authorized to reopen their terraces from May 8, but customers won’t be served indoors.

“Hospitals remain under presser in intensive care,” De Croo said. “We have opted for a careful and realistic approach largely based on confidence.”

The number of new coronavirus infections has dropped 19% over the past seven days and De Croo said a peak might have been reached. But the situation in hospitals remains critical.

Belgium will also lift a ban on non-essential travel abroad from next week, but the government continues to advise against such trips.

“I want to stress that this is really not the moment to start travelling.” De Croo said.

After a three-week shutdown that covered the Easter holidays, schools will open again next Monday, but some classes will be organized remotely.

Non-essential shop owners will be authorized to welcome customers without appointments from April 26, when hair salons and tattoo shops can reopen.

A total of 23,566 people have died from coronavirus-related causes in Belgium, a country of 11.5 million that was among the hardest-hit globally when the pandemic broke.

A further easing of lockdown is expected in June when a large majority of people over 65 will have been vaccinated.

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Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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