The post that isn’t

I was intending to write a lengthy post today about the fact that Belgium is now, for all intents and purposes, back in lockdown as of today. It was announced on Friday and went into effect today.

The measures remain in effect until 13th December but, speaking selfishly, the impact on us is quite minimal. I am already working from home and we’re not doing a lot of non-essential shopping right now. For the boys, the Autumn break is extended from one to two weeks but they will all be going back to school on the 16th. The main impact is going to be that sport and youth activities have all been cancelled — but with schools being open, they won’t be as isolated as they were in the Spring.

I was all set to go on at some length about the details, and then Monday happened. I have spent six hours dealing with one work-related crisis after another. Truth be told, crisis is too big a word, it’s more a case of too many people wanting too much stuff right now. Either way, though I now have neither the energy nor the motivation to start parsing exactly where we are now. So this is all you are going to get from me today.

Belgium is in lockdown, Christmas is cancelled, the medical community are broadly happy and the biggest impact on me is that I am going to really need a haircut in a month’s time.

Not a lockdown

Last week Belgium’s federal government announced a new set of restrictions in the face of ever rising coronavirus numbers. This was followed by regional restrictions in Wallonia and Brussels. And now Flanders has finally caught up.

New restrictions coming into force on Friday including the closure of cinemas and all other cultural venues.

The biggest effect on us will a ban on all amateur sport for anyone over 12, which also applies to youth groups and other activities for the over twelves. This is going to be hard for us since our oldest boy is going to be severely restricted by this while the twins, aged ten, will be largely unaffected.

The worst part, though, is that there is currently no indication as to how long the restrictions will remain in place.

While the various politicians keep saying that they don’t want to implement another lockdown, it does feel very much as if we’re edging closer and closer to one without anyone being willing to admit it.

I have seen various virologists calling for a short (four week) lockdown now in order to avoid a never-ending semi-lockdown which is just going to exhaust, frustrate and confuse people. I have to admit that I find myself increasingly in agreement with this view.

Another lockdown wouldn’t be any fun, but it would give us all a bit of clarity and would, ultimately, be less draining than the endless tweaking of rules we are currently seeing.

Another lockdown has been mooted already. Belgium is currently the worst hit country in the EU. The government needs to bite the bullet and implement a consistent lockdown before it becomes too late.

Lockdown Looming

Even with restrictions being tightened, starting yesterday, things are going to get worse before they get better:

Belgium will not reach its peak number of coronavirus infections until at least a week, if not 10 days from now, with a difficult four weeks fighting the virus ahead, experts have warned.

The new measures include Belgium’s first national curfew since the war and, in Flanders, schools are moving to Code Orange.

This means more restrictions, a suspension of extra-curricula activities, staggered timings to keep classes separate from each other and an option for schools to introduce distance learning for some classes.

According to the newly appointed Government Commissioner for Covid-19, Pedro Faco, the situation is serious but not desperate. He also says that the government doesn’t want another lockdown, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one is announced before Christmas.

For now, though, all we can do is hunker down and hope for the best.

Unfortunate timing

On Friday, the Pixel Museum opened it’s doors to the public. This is Brussels’ first and only video games museum and includes merchandise, memorabilia and — most interestingly to me — 50 playable arcade games.

In other Friday news, the Belgian government announced a tightening of restrictions in order (hopefully) to bring down the rising Coronavirus numbers.

Among the restrictions, bars and restaurants have to close for four weeks, although this will be reviewed in two week’s time. Understandably, the hospitality sector is not happy about this.

Nothing has been decided about museums yet as the rules for sport and culture are still being revised. There will be an announcement this coming Friday, but I would expect to see museums, cinemas and indoor sporting events to be severely restricted, if not closed down completely. Which would be a shame, because I really like the idea of going out to play Space Invaders.

So here’s hoping that the infection rates start falling again and that we can start emerging — yet again — before too long, and that the affected businesses manage to stay afloat long enough to survive this latest outbreak.

52 Orbits

Today, I have managed to make it around the Sun 52 times, but we’ve celebrated already. We went out on Sunday for a socially distanced all you can eat breakfast, followed by two hours of mask compliant bowling. And it’s all in the same location.

The breakfast is something we have done before. You book a table tor two hours (other options are probably available), and while there you can help yourself to as much food as you want. Except, because of the Coronavirus, you can’t help yourself anymore — you have to wait by the counter until the rather harassed looking waiter can come and put some food on your plate.

We were still allowed to help ourselves to coffee, however. I drank a lot of coffee.

The food is great, though, and they have adjusted to the Covid requirements well. Once our trips for more food became a bit more spread, things worked remarkably smoothly. So we ate and, once we were too stuffed to move, we went downstairs for the bowling.

It was 2002, I think, when I last went bowling and I was pretty rubbish then as well. But the twins have expressed an interest a couple of times which is why we decided to go on Sunday. And they did really well — in fact everyone did well, except me.

This is why the scoreboard is obscured in the photo at the top of this post 😉

All in all, it was a fun, and surprisingly cheap, way to spend most of Sunday. We will certainly be doing this again — especially as winter draws in and outdoor activities become less feasible.

That said, the next trip probably won’t be anytime soon given that more Covid restrictions are going into effect today.

All’s fair in love and (cod) war

Flanders will use charter from 1666 to guarantee post-Brexit fishing rights

The Flemish government argues it can invoke a charter that dates back to 1666 to secure its right to fish in U.K. waters if there’s no deal on fisheries before the end of the Brexit transition period.

It turns out that King Charles II granted “eternal access” to fifty fishermen from Bruges way back in 1666.

It sounds like a joke, but a spokesperson for Flemish Fisheries Minister, Hilde Crevits has claimed that the charted “has been confirmed by a U.K. lawyer in 1820.”

That’s a mere ten years before Belgium was founded.

After seeking legal guidance, the government of Flanders has sent a copy of the charter to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

One of the things I love about living in Belgium is the surrealism of the country’s politics.

Water playgrounds and hobbit holes

Back in July, I joked about hobbits moving in to the area. That location is actually a nature playground, and it has recently opened.

The playground is part of a visitors centre that also incorporates a kids-friendly walk, a beautifully renovated 17th Century watermill — which now contains a bar — and a recently restored small lake. It’s going to great when summer comes around.

When I walked by though it was, inevitably enough, raining.

Smeagol does now have a door fitted, so he won’t get too wet, but I think he’s going to need a bit of grass to grow before his hole starts to feel like a home.

That said, I did cross the bridge, which (luckily) wasn’t as slippery as I had initially feared.

Belgium has a government

Talk about cutting things fine. After twelve attempts and just before the “we really mean it this time” deadline of 1st October, the seven parties involved in the current round of coalition negotiations have finally reached an agreement.

Belgium has been struggling to form a new federal government since the general election on 26 May 2019. Ever since the Flemish nationalists quit the cabinet in December 2018 Belgium has been administered by a minority government, for the past three months by a government with special powers to tackle the corona crisis that enjoyed support from the opposition benches.

That support runs out tomorrow, so we have only just avoided another election.

It should come as no surprise that Flemish Liberal, Alexander De Croo is Belgium’s next prime minister. He and Francophone Socialist, Paul Magnette have been leading the negotiations for this final stage. In principle, either could have taken the top job but, with the Francophone parties dominating a Flemish leader provides some balance. The same (in reverse) was the case when Charles Michel was chosen to lead the amazingly ill-described Kamikaze coalition in 2014.

This coalition has been more poetically dubbed the Vivaldi coalition on the basis that the four political groupings involved can be said to reflect the composer’s Four Seasons: red for the Flemish and Francophone Socialists; blue for the Flemish and Francophone Liberals; green for the Flemish and Francophone Greens; and orange for the Flemish Christian democrats.

At 493 days, these negotiations have been the second longest Belgium has seen. The government formation in 2010-2011 took longer.

But if you count from the collapse of the last government in December 2018, Belgium has broken it’s own record for the longest period without an elected government.

Congratulations all round!

Don’t hold your breath…

But Belgium might actually achieve a government. After much drama, many false starts and almost two years…

Efforts to form a new Belgian government are back on track tonight after Francophone liberal leader Georges-Louis Bouchez agreed to the conditions set by preformateurs Egbert Lachaert (Flemish liberal) and Conner Rousseau (Flemish socialist) with regard to the texts that will form the basis of formal coalition talks.

The seven parties currently involved in preliminary negotiations to form a government have finally reached a broad agreement on a government programme. Now they just need to thrash out the details.

The current caretaker government has been given until 1st October which means that formateurs, Alexander De Croo and Paul Magnette have a week to get everything nailed down.

Ooh. It’s exciting!

Flexibly Confused

I’m not entirely sure about this:

A committee of coronavirus experts has come up with a plan to tighten or relax social contact rules in Belgium depending on the situation in a particular province.

Presently, the rules on how many people you can have in your social bubble are determined nationally. What the Celeval group of experts is proposing is that this approach should be determined locally, based on factors such as numbers of coronavirus hospitalisations in a given province.

Given that most of the cases at the moment are coming out of Brussels and Antwerp, there is some logic to allowing some variation between these and other regions. It does, however, take another step away from having a single, clear set of rules towards expecting people to navigate multiple, and not always clear sets of rules.

People don’t generally pay that much attention so complexity is often best avoided.

RTBF quotes an unidentified source pointing out that there are already colour code systems for education and travel. I’m not convinced that this is relevant, though.

In the case of education, for example, the rules can vary, but we are able to rely on the affected schools to let us know whenever something changes that we need to know about. I’m not convinced a provincial government would be able to send out such updates to everyone, even if they wanted to.

The National Security Council meets later today, so we will find out soon enough just how confusing things are set to become.