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.

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.

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.

Mad compromise of the moment

The Belgium National Security Council met on Thursday to come up with new measures to address the public concern surrounding the coronavirus. They have come up with a number of measures that, essentially, amount to cancelling weekends and, bizarrely:

All classes at school will be suspended, but schools will be asked to provide care, especially for parents who are unable to look after their children during school hours. The Prime Minister has called for children not to be taken care of by grandparents.

In other words, schools will remain both open and closed until the end of the month.

According to Politico, this is the result of disagreement between Flemish and French-speaking politicians:

Whereas French-speaking politicians wanted to close down all schools in Belgium, as is now the case in France, Flemish politicians were more reluctant to do so, fearing an economic shock. A compromise was found by suspending all classes but not closing all schools.

After the press conference, Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon stressed that schools are not shutting down completely. “Closing all schools would be a problem for people who work in the health sector or for parents whose children can only be cared for by grandparents. That is precisely the most vulnerable group. Parents who can’t find a solution for their children can still rely on schools.”

I am certainly sympathetic to the view that offloading kids onto grandparents — the most vulnerable group — for the best part of three weeks would be insane. But if schools are going to stay partly open, I don’t see the value in not keeping them fully open.

Then again, it probably shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that the country that gave us Magritte would also be the first country to invent Schrödinger’s School.