Unpausing

The Easter Pause didn’t have as much impact as hoped but the Covid numbers have been deemed to be enough under control for the break to end on Monday, as planned. This means, among other things, that people can meet outside in groups of up to ten, we no longer need to make an appointment to go shopping and hairdressers and other non-medical contact professions can re-open with restrictions. I think I need a haircut again.

The big news, though, is that bars and restaurants with terraces can reopen on 8th May. There are a number of restrictions, but these amount to: go with a small group, or your household; stay seated; and be out by 10:00. Not all restaurants are going to be able to re-open because the tables have to be at least 1.5 metres apart, but I’m feeling optimistic.

May 8th is also when restrictions on youth club activities start to bee loosened, with a further relaxation (provisionally, as always) on 25th June. This should mean that the boys will be able to go on summer camp this year.

This, of course, all depends on people getting vaccinated so it’s good to see that the Belgian vaccination campaign is receiving something of a boost, with the delivery of nearly 900,000 coronavirus vaccines. This, along with the minimum age limit for the AstraZeneca vaccine being lowered will, hopefully, see the schedule speeding up a bit.

According to the Flemish Health Minister, Flanders is expecting to have half of it’s population vaccinated by the end of May, at which point things can start returning to normal.

Here’s hoping that we can all look forward to August.

Feels like 2020

With Coronavirus indicators continuing to rise, it came as a surprise to no-one that Belgium is going into lockdown again. This was announced yesterday and the new restrictions take effect on Monday.

The new and tightened rules all amount to reducing the numbers of contacts we have with each other, with aim of having a short, hard lockdown now in order to avoid longer lasting one later.

For us, the main impact is that schools are closed next week. Macsen has end-of-term exams, which are permitted but we will have to wait to hear from the school as to how these will be organised. As for William and Alexandre, we are also waiting to hear from their school whether any online learning will be organised or if they are going to have a three-week Easter break.

Non-essential journeys within Belgium are still allowed and the zoos remain open, so even with these new restrictions we’re not entirely trapped. Just as long as none of us tries to talk to anyone.

Great Minds

In the comments of yesterday’s post, I suggested (slightly flippantly) that if France and Germany didn’t want their AstraZeneca vaccines, they could be used to speed up the vaccination process in Belgium.

Great minds think alike.

Belgium has asked pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca for the surplus vaccine doses from the countries that have temporarily put the company’s jabs on hold over recent concerns about possible side effects.

Jabtastic!

On speaking too soon

While rambling yesterday about the Coronavirus, I suggested (not as directly as I thought I had) that the availability of vaccines provided a way out of this pandemic. They do, but there are still delays.

The biggest coronavirus vaccination centre in Belgium, Heysel, did not open its doors on Monday after the delay in deliveries of AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines resulted in hundreds of appointments being cancelled.

AstraZeneca announced last week that it would only be able to deliver 500,000 coronavirus vaccines to Belgium, 200,000 fewer than promised, and Moderna said it would be delivering just 94,800 doses this week, leaving centres with reduced supply.

Then again, this is why any plans we make are very provisional.

365 Days Later

It was on Monday 16th March 2020 that I turned up to work to find a company-wide email telling me that I should start working from home. The mail had been sent on the Sunday which is why I hadn’t seen it before I reached the office. It was surprising, though, just how many people had been looking at their email over the weekend and, consequently, had known to stay at home. The following day, Belgium formed a temporary government which promptly placed the country in lockdown.

That Monday was, for me, the moment that the Coronavirus became real. Obviously, I had been aware of it and had been following the news but, until this point, the crisis had not had any direct impact on me or those around me so it had all felt a bit abstract.

I have been intending to post something to mark the date for a few days, but when I came to write this I found that I really didn’t have much to say. There are several reasons for this, but a major one is that being stuck at home hasn’t really been too hard on me.

It helps of course that I am something of an introvert and am quite happy to see no-one but my immediate family for, well, for a year. Living in the middle of nowhere has also been surprisingly helpful as I have been able, throughout the pandemic, to find some very pleasant places to walk all of which are very close to home. This has extended to the kids as well and, even with various activities cancelled, local clubs and groups have managed to both organise online activities and provide relevant resources and suggestions.

Financially, we are among the 71% of Belgians that are doing fine. Luxuries are largely reduced to pizza and DVDs and, while I do miss meals out and trips to the cinema, the absence of these is not much of a hardship. And this sums up much of the lockdown period for me; there have been plenty of minor irritations, but nothing devastating.

I realise that we have been lucky, and that many people have had a far harder time of this pandemic than we have, and I am certainly looking forward to receiving the vaccine and finally seeing an end to the crisis. It’s going to be a while yet, though, with the Flemish Health Minister promising 11th July as the date by which everyone in Flanders having received their first jab. As long as the ordered vaccines all turn up on time. Being neither a front-line worker or in any risk group I imagine I will be close to the back of that particular queue so we’re not making any summer holiday commitments just yet.

I haven’t renewed my rail pass either. I don’t need it if I’m working from home and have seen no indication from my employer that they have any plan to reopen the office any time soon. I can’t say I’m at all unhappy about this; working from home has freed up a huge amount of time for me and it has become very apparent to all just how unnecessary a physical office actually is. Ideally, I would go into work for one or two days a week and stay at home for the rest. We shall have to see how things go.

It’s not over yet, but the end is in sight and we can start looking forward again to a post-pandemic world. Hang in there, wherever you are, and here’s looking forward to the light at the end of the tunnel.

Unflooded

At the start of this month, I mentioned that the daily walk I usually take was a bit flooded. Things got worse after that and, shortly after I had decided I should look for a different route, the footpath was closed. So, for the past couple of weeks I have been taking my walks around the town. It’s not the same.

Now that the snow has melted and the sun is out (it almost feels like Spring), I thought I would take another look.

The river water is still a bit high, but not too high, and the bridge is accessible again.

It’s also been warm enough for me to spend some time chopping wood for the next cold snap.

Things are looking up.

Winter is here

We actually have a decent layer of snow at last. It started snowing on Saturday evening and continued pretty much all the way through Sunday. It’s eased off now, but we are still seeing the occasional flurries.

It’s days like this that I light the fire and appreciate the fact that I am still working from home.

The Haggis Crisis of 2021

As Brexit disasters go, this is quite a minor one but January 25th was Burns Night, a time to drink whisky, eat haggis and recite poetry. But with ongoing supply chain effects, there was no haggis to be found in Belgium, which led to something of an outcry.

More seriously, Stonemanor, which operates two British supermarkets in Belgium, has announced that it will have to close both premises this coming weekend due to depleted stock levels caused by import issues.

Stonemanor also operates a British Store online which is how I manage to keep fully stocked with essentials like Brown Sauce, Marmite and Lemon Curd. This site has, obviously, suspended orders for the weekend as well and are asking customers to check again after 10th February.

We’re not short of anything yet, but I will be checking in again next week.

I have found the site to be a very good one. They are quick and reliable and have an impressive range of foods on stock. Their announcement about suspending orders also notes:

All our orders are processed and dispatched from Belgium, so when this service resumes, there will be no additional shipping or Brexit surcharges to cover customs clearance.

If you are living in the EU and fancy a taste of something British (they also have a decent selection of Indian and Mexican foods) without any random customs costs, I would strongly recommend taking a look at what they have to offer.

Flooded

Up until the end of last year I was doing quite well when it came to going for a daily walk and was managing to spend at least an hour a day walking. Things, however, have slacked off a bit since the New Year, though. When it’s a good time, it’s often too dark or too wet or too cold, or I’m just feeling too lazy. Consequently, I’ve only been managing three or four times a week during January.

So, even though it was a bit wet yesterday afternoon, I went for a walk anyway. What’s more, the twins decided they would like to join me.

It turned out to have rained a bit more than I had realised and, after trudging through some pond-sized puddles (and avoiding the lake-size ones) we came to the small bridge I usually cross on the way to a nearby forest.

We took a detour.