Bubbles

It’s confirmed:

All Flemish primary schools may resume lessons for all years starting 8 June.

Each class becomes a ‘class bubble’ with no social distancing required within the bubble and no interaction allowed between the bubbles. This makes quite a lot of sense, I think, as it puts teachers in control of maintaining social distancing between classes rather than expecting large numbers of pre-teens to observe rules they don’t necessarily understand.

There will be a trial day on 5th June to see how it all works, and it looks like the local school is taping off parts of the field behind it already.

Secondary schools were already partially re-opened for some years, this will be expanded so that all years will have some days a week in school to finish their year. Classes are restricted to bubbles of 14 and the pupils here will have to observe social distancing measures.

We have no pre-school children in our household, but kindergartens are fully re-opening on 2nd June with no social distancing measures for the younglings.

I think we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The next diary date is June 3rd when we will hear the yes or no decision regarding bars and restaurants reopening on June 8th. We are waiting with bated breath.

Freedom!

Last year in July, with all three boys away at camp, Eve and I took advantage of the child-free week by going out for food. A lot.

So I was delighted to discover that the steering committee representing the different government levels and experts has decided to allow summer camps for children to go ahead starting from July 1st. There will, of course, be various restrictions in place but camp is camp and this will be good for all of us — especially if restaurants are able to re-open on June 8th as expected (or maybe earlier).

In another much needed easing of restrictions, Flemish educationalists are proposing to reopen nursery schools and allow more pupils to return to primary and secondary schools as of 2nd June. The proposal isn’t for a 100% return and we will have to see how things work in practice, but the boys are looking very cheerful at the prospect of seeing their friends again.

The next National Security Council meeting will take place on 3rd June with phase three of the lockdown exit plan provisionally (everything is provisional at the moment) planned for 8th June. Right now I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for a nearly normal summer.

I can haz haircut?

Yesterday’s big news in Belgium is that the lockdown exit phase 2 starts on Monday. This means, among other things, that hairdressers will be allowed to reopen. And not a moment too soon.

After two months in lockdown, my hair is quite a mess, to put it mildly. I did ask my partner if she wanted to have a go at it with the clippers but she refused, claiming that she was worried about exposing too much of my bald patch. Not that I will admit to having a bald patch — I’m just a little thin on top 😉

Still, on Monday I will be able to book an appointment for a socially distanced haircut. Although, with the various rules still in place, it will probably be June before I get to see a pair of scissors. But better late than never.

A number of other things will be allowed to reopen including, oddly enough, zoos and amusement parks. That said, however, day trips and other non-essential travel is still not allowed so I’m not sure how anyone is supposed to visit these attractions.

We shall see.

Slowly emerging

It’s official. Belgium will start to slowly emerge from lockdown on Monday with phase 1A.

This means a gradual return for work for those who were unable to work form home and fabric stores being allowed to open. We’ll need the fabric for the masks.

Handily, though, train stations across the country will be selling masks instead of snacks from their vending machines from Monday. So there won’t be any excuse to defy the new rules around wearing masks in stations and on public transport.

The rules around social gatherings are also being very slightly loosened and, in Brussels, a contact tracing test phase will be launched. The aim (in both Brussels and Flanders) is to have this fully operational by 11th May which is the provisional start date of phase 1B.

While this is a positive step, not much is changing for us yet. The schools are still closed and I will continue to work from home. I shall, however, do my patriotic duty and eat more chips.

25 kilometres, 5 hours

Belgium’s knooppunt network is a wonderfully simple idea. If you go for a walk anywhere in the country, you will encounter plenty of these numbered posts, each pointing the way to the next numbered post. This makes it very easy to map out a route for yourself simply by deciding beforehand which posts you want to visit.

And if you don’t know the area, sites like wandelknooppunt.be have plenty of routes from which you can choose.

With all of the kids’ activities currently cancelled, the local youth club has assembled a collection of age appropriate routes for families to follow. This is how I came to have started my first three day weekend on a 25 kilometre walk around the area.

P1050341

It’s surprising just how much a walk like this reveals about the surrounding area. We passed a restaurant in the woods that I didn’t know about as well as a children’s petting zoo that we will need to note for future reference.

For the most part, though, it’s a walk in the woods and alongside a lake and a rather pleasant way to fulfil our daily weekly quota of exercise.

Of course, by the time we got home we were all tired and hungry and very quickly agreed that we deserved a pizza.

Coronabsurdity of the day

This is brilliant.

Belgium and The Netherlands have taken different approaches to the coronavirus, with Belgium ordering all non-essential shops to close and the Dutch allowing the shops to stay open as long as they take measures to enforce social distancing.

The towns of Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog are, in fact, a single town that straddles the border between Belgium and The Netherlands. Inevitably enough, someone built a shop across the border.

So what do you do when you have conflicting rules as to whether you can open or not?

You open half a shop:

Continue reading “Coronabsurdity of the day”

The Belgian shutdown has started

You can tell things are getting bad when Belgium gets a government. This is, of course, only a temporary government — negotiations are still ongoing for the new federal government — but prime minister, Sophie Wilmès now has powers for six months to take measures to curb the COVID-19 pandemic without requiring parliamentary approval.

The first thing this government did was to declare a declare a nation-wide shutdown as of noon today. Until 5th April, we are all expected to stay at home except for essential reasons, such as food shopping, or outdoor physical activities which can only be done with people living in the same house.

They are trying to avoid calling this a lockdown for fear of negative connotations. But that’s what this is.

Compared to yesterday, we’re not that much affected. I’m already working from home and Eve is still able to take the boys out in the afternoon in order to prevent us all going stir crazy. Because I am not walking to work at present, I have taken to taking a walk around town before I start working and again when I have finished. This is still allowed as long as I don’t talk to anyone.

In slightly more positive news, a citizens’ initiative has been launched aiming to bring together isolated people with volunteers available to gather and deliver essential shopping. The idea from Covid Solidarity is to make shopping list templates for printing out available to people who find themselves isolated.

Once completed, the list may be placed in a visible position in front of one’s house so that a neighbour can pick it up and set about making the necessary purchases.

The shopping is then deposited without physical contact, and reimbursement for purchases made is handled directly by the person lending assistance and the person being assisted, according to the procedure detailed on the site.

And two Dutch universities are looking into whether a vaccine for tuberculosis can be used to boost immune systems which may mean fewer and less severe infections.

Five Things #26

Safe, Child, Safe is an Obsidian and Blood Short Story from Aliette de Bodard. I now want to read the whole of this Aztec noir fantasy series.

Kristin Andrews and Susana Monsó point out that rats are sentient beings with rich emotional lives, and ask why they don’t get the same ethical protections as primates.

It’s a Brewtiful World visits Brasserie Cantillon, where he first discovered the joy of lambics and geuzes.

Hannah Wallace visits the town that stopped big bottled water.

Will Bedingfield looks at the strange evolution of conspiracy theories leading to coronavirus misinformation. Think before you share.

Five Things #25

Sonya, Josephine, and the Tragic Re-Invention of the Telephone by I. S. Heynen is a powerful slice of dystopian fiction.

Chris Grey suggests that Brexit is going feral, and examines the consequences.

Denzil visits The Vlooyberg Tower near Tielt-Winge.

Ben Orlin asks What Makes a Great Teacher? With answers from four great teachers.

And another wolf has been sighted in Belgium. This time in Liège.

Happy Palindrome Day

Today’s date — 02/02/2020 — is a palindrome. What’s more, it’s a Palindrome in both European and American date formats, which makes it doubly special. We shall, of course, be celebrating with beer and pancakes.

That’s not entirely true. The local youth group organises a pancake day every year on the first Sunday in February, and every year we go along to support it — and eat unlimited pancakes. The fun starts at 3:00 this afternoon. Well, for the twins and I anyway.

Macsen has another karate tournament — something else that also always takes place on the first Sunday in February — so he and his mum will be joining us just as soon as they can.

We will probably be skipping dinner tonight.