Coronablog

News

This coronablog will be frequently updated.

24/06/2020 - Phase 4 of the phasing out on 1 July 2020

The National Security Council reached an agreement to proceed with phase 4 of the phasing-out from 1 July. 

The six golden rules remain in force:

  • compliance with hygiene measures;
  • preferably organize activities in open air;
  • taking extra precautions for people who are in high-risk groups;
  • respecting safety distances;
  • the enlarged bubble, which is increased from 10 to 15 different people per week, in addition to your family. As a reminder, this is an individual right;
  • group activities may not involve more than 15 persons, including children. This applies to all informal gatherings, whether they take place indoors or outdoors.

Are allowed to open under certain conditions:

  • swimming pools and wellness centres;
  • amusement parks and indoor playgrounds;
  • theatres and cinemas;
  • casinos and gaming halls;
  • conference rooms;
  • reception and function rooms with a limit of 50 people.

One of the conditions is that protocols are followed. In addition, the general rules already in force for other activities, such as the mandatory observance of safety distances, the introduction of time slots and crowd management, the cleaning of infrastructure and the wearing of face masks are still strongly recommended.

The following activities may not yet be resumed at this stage:

  • activities linked to nightlife, such as nightclubs;
  • mass events.

Nevertheless, it will be possible to organise activities with an audience present from 1 July, subject to certain conditions laid down in protocols.

For regular events held in permanent infrastructures such as theatres, cinemas, stands and congress halls that are organized, protocols will be developed with the competent ministers and GEES experts.

For one-off events taking place in the public space an online tool (matrix) will be available from 1 July, which will serve as a reference for local authorities when granting permits for these events. Clear rules will also have to be applied.

All these events are subject to a capacity limit:

  • 200 people indoors;
  • 400 people outdoors.

This capacity limit will be increased in August to 400 people indoors and 800 people outdoors, provided the health situation allows for it. An exception to exceed this limit may be requested for permanent infrastructures with a seated public, subject to safety regulations.

The maximum number of attendees for outdoor events also applies to demonstrations. These must always be the subject of a request for permission from the local authorities. In any case, they must always be static and take place in an area where safety distances can be observed.

At the same time, in addition to the resumption of these activities, certain protocols will be relaxed from 1 July:

  • The possibility to go to the store with people from the contact bubble and without time limit. Safety distance always applies.
  • Lifting the restriction on the number of market stalls. Health protocols and measures continue to apply.

As far as the longer-term prospects are concerned, preparations for the start of the new school year are already in full swing.

18/06/2020 - Posting of planning permission decisions in the Brussels-Capital Region

The Government of the Brussels-Capital Region provides for a change in the form and procedures for publishing and making available planning permission decisions, allotment permits and planning certificates.

The measures provided for the publication and making available of planning decisions could not be introduced because they were incompatible with the social-distancing rules issued by the National Security Council in the context of the corona crisis. Consequently, information to the public has been severely restricted since 16 March 2020.

Since a return to a 'normal' situation is not foreseen in the short term, the Brussels Government provides for:

  • the abolition of the display on the municipal notice boards;
  • the abolition of the 100 m display on both sides of the property;
  • the charging of the applicant with the display on the property of the planning and development permit as well as on the existing or future entrances to the property in question.

These arrangements will apply to any decision that has to be posted between 16 June and 31 December 2020. 

12/06/2020 - New measures for the third part of the federal plan for social and economic protection

The Inner Cabinet reached an agreement on Friday about a series of additional support measures related to the third part of the Federal Plan for Social and Economic Protection.

A first part of support measures relates to the encouragement of investment. Specifically, it is about:

  • A new Covid-19 tax shelter system, which is temporary, until the end of the year and is open to all SMEs that have been affected by the Covid-19 crisis.
  • An increased investment deduction (25%) for investments made between 12 March and 31 December 2020.
  • An increase from 50 to 100% for the deduction of costs related to organising events and catering until 31 December. This avoids a massive postponement of events until next year, which could cause even more problems for the already badly affected sector.
  • Suspension of the VAT advance for December 2020. As a reminder, companies are normally required to pay an advance before 20 December and this will be postponed by one month. The aim is again to improve companies’ liquidity.
  • An increase from 10 to 20% of the share of net income eligible for tax deductions for donations. At the same time, the tax reduction for donations to approved institutions will be increased from 45% to 60% in 2020. The latter provision is aimed in particular at the voluntary sector and will support NGOs and non-profit organisations whose activities of general interest have been severely affected by the crisis.

A second part concerns the organisation of work. This includes:

  • The creation of a special Corona unemployment scheme, which consists of a transition from temporary unemployment due to corona force majeure to regular economic unemployment. This ‘transitional’ economic unemployment can be used if the company experiences a 10% drop in turnover. Employees will attend 2 days of training per month of unemployment and will continue to receive 70% of their last capped salary.
  • Companies undergoing restructuring or in difficulty will be able to reduce working time pending the resumption of their normal activities and to avoid redundancies, either by means of a collective reduction in working time, or by means of the time credit or end-of-career time credit, for which access with benefits will be lowered from 57 to 55 years of age.
  • Extending access to corona parental leave. This scheme will run until 30 September with benefits that are increased to 150% for single-parent families and families with a disabled child.
  • The costs incurred by people working from home will be more easily reimbursable, up to a maximum of EUR 127 per month, with a view to achieving a better work-life balance in the future.

An agreement was also reached to make available an envelope of EUR 100 million for Public Welfare Centres (OCMW/CPAS), which will be earmarked for vulnerable people.  

6/06/2020 - Agreement of the Inner Cabinet +10 on spending power support measures

A first package contains measures already taken by the federal government, which will be extended until 31 August. The most important measures are:

  • temporary unemployment due to corona force majeure;
  • the bridging right for the self-employed;
  • and corona parental leave.

This also applies to other measures such as freezing the degressive nature of unemployment benefits, all measures for artists, the EUR 3 million grant to Public Welfare Centres (OCMW/CPAS) for food aid and the benefits for those who donate computer equipment to schools.

Four specific support measures have been taken for industries in difficulty, including the hotel and catering industry, order to mitigate the socio-economic impact of a gradual resumption of activity. These are:

  • An extension and improvement of the bridging right for the self-employed until 31 August 2020, with a possible extension until 31 December 2020;
  • At the same time, an extension of temporary unemployment until 31 December 2020.
  • To improve the financial situation of hospitality establishments, VAT on all services, except alcoholic beverages, will be reduced to 6% until 31 December 2020;
  • In severely affected industries that had to resort to temporary unemployment, an agreement was reached to grant a partial exemption from payment of withholding tax for the next three months. This will also be an incentive to have employees who are currently temporarily unemployed return to work.

As far as company solvency is concerned, the bank guarantee will be extended. The opportunities for extending the measure to SMEs will soon be discussed in Parliament. Proposals to support artists will also be discussed there next week.

Attention was also paid to Belgians’ spending power. The Federal Government and the ten parties want to create a positive dynamic, first and foremost and as a matter of priority for the people, but also for the economic activity of our country. The measures include

  • A consumption voucher of EUR 300 aimed at the worst affected industries. This voucher can be granted by employers for the purchase of goods and services in the hospitality industry, the cultural industry, etc. This cheque is 100% deductible and tax-free.
  • Additional support of 6 times 50 euros per month to living wage earners, people with disabilities and people entitled to an IGO/GRAPA (income guarantee for the elderly).
  • Every resident of our country will get a rail pass (NMBS/SNCB) for 10 train rides valid from 1 July to 31 December. The supplement for taking bicycles on the train will be lifted temporarily.

Moreover, additional support for the Public Welfare Centres (OCMW/CPAS) will be provided through a further temporary 15% increase in the Federal Government’s reimbursement rate.

The ten parties have agreed to continue negotiating additional support measures that may complement this first package.

3/06/2020 - Start of phase 3 of the phase-out plan on 8 June

On 3 June 2020, the National Security Council approved the transition to Phase 3 of the phase-out plan starting on 8 June. 

This implies a radical change in approach compared to the rules that have been in force so far. After all, from now on, freedom is the rule and what is not allowed is the exception.

Certain activities are still banned because they either involve too close contact between people or mass gatherings, or because no protocols – i.e. specific rules for a sector – have been defined yet.

This new approach must be understood at two levels. 

  1. As far as individual behaviour is concerned, there are six golden rules:
  • Hygiene measures remain essential;
  • Outdoor activities should be favoured wherever possible. Where necessary, rooms should be adequately ventilated;
  • Additional precautions should be taken for people belonging to a high-risk group. A charter is being developed for older people who do volunteer work to provide them with more clarity about the activities they can engage in safely;
  • The rules regarding safety distance continue to apply, except for people within the same family, for children under the age of 12 and for people with whom there is closer contact, i.e. the extended bubble. Those who cannot respect the safety distance have to wear a mouth mask;
  • It is possible to have closer contact with 10 different people every week, in addition to the family members (= extended personal bubble). This is an individual right. These 10 people can change from one week to the next;
  • Group meetings are limited to a maximum of 10 people, including children. This applies to all gatherings, regardless of whether they take place at home or outdoors (e.g. in the park or at a restaurant);
  • Organised sports and now also cultural activities supervised by a person in charge are limited to 20 people in June and 50 people in July, provided that the safety distance is maintained.
  1. About the regulatory framework:
  • All organised activities are resumed, unless the restart is planned in another phase, with protocols that protect both users and staff. These protocols are determined by the competent Minister, after consulting the GEES, in consultation with the sector and, in the case of North-South issues, with an inter-federal approach;
  • The protocols will be evaluated by 1 July. If there is no protocol for a subsector, a document is placed online with the general rules that must apply as a minimum;
  • Working from home is recommended where possible.

The hospitality, sports and culture industries are the main industries where important decisions have been taken.

Hospitality industry

The industry is allowed to reopen partially. Gaming halls (e.g. casinos), banqueting and reception halls will not be allowed to reopen until 1 July. As far as banqueting and reception halls are concerned, they will be allowed to operate with a maximum of 50 people present, subject to the same conditions as catering. Nightclubs are not allowed to open before the end of August, as no safety distance can be ensured.

In addition to these exceptions, all other hospitality establishments such as cafes, bars and restaurants will reopen according to a very precise protocol.

The main features of this protocol include:

  • A distance of 1.50 metres between the tables;
  • A maximum of 10 persons per table;
  • Each customer must remain seated at their own table;
  • Waiters have to wear masks;
  • All hospitality establishments are allowed to remain open until one o’clock in the morning, just like the night shops.

Cultural industry

From 8 June, cultural activities may resume without an audience present. Performances with an audience – including cinemas – can be resumed from 1 July, but only subject to specific rules regarding crowd management, such as respecting the safety distance in the audience and a maximum of 200 attendees.

Activities should be organised in such a way as to avoid gatherings of too many people, e.g. outside the venue.

When people take part in cultural and leisure activities, wearing a mask is recommended at all times.

Sporting and now also cultural activities that are organised and supervised by a person in charge are limited to 20 people in June and 50 people in July, subject to safety distances.

In these two industries – but not only those two – the very gradual reopening and associated requirements will make it more difficult to operate at a profit. At the federal and regional level, in addition to extending or adapting the generic measures to support the economy, we are currently working on a series of specific measures to help certain industries.

Sports industry

From 8 June, non-contact sports activities can be resumed, both indoor and outdoor, amateur or professional, league and training. Gyms and fitness rooms may also be reopened, subject to protocol.

However:

  • Contact sports (e.g. judo, boxing, football, etc.) should always be limited to “contactless” training;
  • As far as sports facilities are concerned, the protocols will also have to be followed. Changing rooms and showers will still not be accessible;
  • Swimming pools, saunas and wellness centres have to remain closed at this stage.

As far as sports are concerned, everything will be allowed again from 1 July, provided that the protocols are respected.

In both the cultural and sports industries, from 1 July, a seated audience of up to 200 people – regardless of the size of the venue – will be allowed, subject to safety distances and always in strict compliance with protocols.

Travel

From 8 June, it will be possible to travel inside of Belgium with trips lasting one or more days.

From 15 June, Belgium will open its borders for travel to and from the European Union, including the United Kingdom and the four other Schengen countries (Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway). However, it is up to each country to decide whether to open its borders. To know the situation in the country of destination, it is therefore advisable to consult the website of the FPS Foreign Affairs. The conditions for travel outside of Europe have yet to be defined in light of the evolution of discussions at European level.

Get-togethers

Cultural and leisure activities have to be organised in such a way as to avoid large gatherings. Wearing a mask is recommended at all times.

Large-scale mass events, on the other hand, will remain prohibited until 31 August, as previously announced.

At the beginning of summer, an online evaluation tool will be made available for organisers who want to know whether they can organise an event and subject to what conditions.

Phases 4 and 5 of our phase-out strategy will take place in July and August, if the epidemiological situation permits.

26/05/2020 - Credendo Bridge Guarantee approved

The European Commission approved the Credendo Bridge Guarantee in favour of the Belgian economy and internationally active enterprises.

This Guarantee has been set up by Credendo, acting as the Belgian public credit insurer.

It aims at ensuring that enterprises, and SMEs in particular, with international activities and affected by the coronavirus epidemic, can obtain the necessary bank credits in these challenging times. Credendo guarantees up to 80% of bridging loans for a maximum duration of one year.

Thanks to this guarantee, internationally active enterprises can obtain credit more easily, and credit amounts can be higher, while the bank granting the credit facility will have a larger capacity and more comfort.

All information, technical specifications, acceptance criteria and application forms for this product can be found at https://www.credendo.com/covid-19.

13/05/2020 - Phase-out Phase 2 starts from 18 May

The National Security Council (NSC) decided to start phase 2 of the phase-out plan as from 18 May.

This phase is mainly about the gradual restarting of teaching for certain pupils in primary and secondary schools, under strict organisational conditions. 

A second aspect in this phase is culture. The NSC has decided that museums and cultural sights – historic buildings and monuments, castles, citadels – can be reopened as from 18 May, provided they set up an online or telephone ticketing system and take the necessary measures to avoid drawing crowds. Libraries can remain open, under the same conditions as now.

As far as the economic activities are concerned: it has been decided that contact professions can resume their activities at this stage, subject to certain conditions. For example, they must work by appointment, wear a face mask or mouth-nose protection (staff and customers) and respect the safety distance between customers.

In addition, markets may start up again, in consultation with local authorities. These markets may have a maximum of 50 stalls, a circulation plan must be drawn up and safety distances must always be respected. Wearing a mask or mouth-nose cover is mandatory for market stall operators and their staff and is also highly recommended for customers.

Finally, a number of other decisions have been taken with regard to sports and leisure. Natural tourist sites, such as zoos, will also be allowed to reopen, provided that they introduce an online or telephone ticketing system to restrict public access, draw up a circulation plan and that cafeterias and restaurants remain closed, as well as any rides and playgrounds. Regular outdoor and club sports trainings and lessons may be resumed if they respect the safety distance and if a coach is present. Groups may not exceed 20 persons and sports clubs are only allowed to re-open provided all measures are taken to ensure the safety of athletes.

As far as marriages and funerals are concerned, a maximum of 30 people may attend ceremonies from 18 May, under certain conditions, including respect for the safety distance. However, organising a reception after the ceremony is not allowed.

There will be no next steps in the phasing-out plan before 8 June. And after phase 3, more phases will follow

The detailed phasing-out plan as it relates to sports and culture will be communicated as soon as it is agreed with the GEES. The same applies to the gradual resumption of tourist activities and the reopening of restaurants, terraces and cafés.

All cultural, sporting, tourist and recreational events are prohibited until 30 June.

12/05/2020 - Extension until 17 June of general suspension for affected enterprises

A press release has been published today by Minister Geens stating that Royal Decree No 15 which temporarily protects companies against conservatory and enforcement attachment and bankruptcy (and judicial dissolution) and the dissolution of agreements due to non-payment, will be extended until 17 June 2020.

8/05/2020 - Extension of the Council of State's time limits  

A recently published Royal Decree extends the measures introduced by Royal Decree No 12 concerning the extension of the time limits for proceedings before the Council of State and the written procedure". This Royal Decree entered into force on 4 May 2020.

The processing by written procedure or, exceptionally, by video/Skype of requests for suspension of extreme urgency will be possible until 17 June 2020 (instead of 2 June 2020)

All other requests and appeals (other than those of extreme urgency) may be dealt with without a public hearing, provided that all parties so request or agree, until 60 days after the new expiry date (i.e. until 17 July 2020 instead of 2 July 2020). This concerns only cases where all procedural documents have already been exchanged and are ready to be dealt with in open court.

The provisions on the time limits for the institution and processing of proceedings before the Administrative Jurisdiction Division of the Council of State will not be extended again, since legal uncertainty in connection with acts of government over a long period is not desirable.

6/05/2020 - Phase-out strategy Phase 1b

The National Security Council, expanded to the Ministers-Presidents, met to validate, complete and clarify the new phase of the dismantling strategy, namely phase 1b, which will begin on 11 May. The experts gave this new phase the go-ahead, as a number of criteria are looking well at the moment.

On the 11th of May shops will also be allowed to reopen, if they strictly comply with the following rules:

  • For the shops that are already open – only 1 customer per 10m² will be allowed, for a maximum of 30 minutes. An exception is made for smaller shops.
  • Customers are strongly recommended to wear protection covering nose and mouth when inside a store. In any case, safe distance must be kept.
  • Employers are responsible for the health and safety of their employees and must make every effort to ensure safe working conditions.

To avoid overcrowding, people will have to do their shopping alone. An exception is made for children under the age of 18 – they can be accompanied by a parent – and for people who require assistance. We also recommend that you frequent shops that are located in a city or town near home or workplace. Day trips and tourist activities are still not allowed. Gatherings of people are also not allowed. Local authorities will ensure that safety distances in public spaces are maintained and will take the necessary measures. Priority should be given to people over 65 years of age, people with reduced mobility and healthcare staff.

People may use public transport if they have no alternative. The aim is to give priority to those most in need of public transport.

Contact professions outside of medical and paramedical care are not yet allowed to resume their activities.

Markets will not be able to start in this phase either. Only individual market stalls (food and non-food) will be allowed by the local authorities and at the usual locations. As everywhere, a safe distance will have to be respected.

Cafes, bars, restaurants and festivity halls, recreational, cultural and tourist sites will remain closed in this phase.

The next phase is currently scheduled to start on 18 May. The communities and educational stakeholders are already working together to ensure a gradual resumption of lessons in primary and secondary education.

In the meantime, together with the experts, the National Security Council will determine the feasibility and conditions for:

  • Markets to resume;
  • Museums, libraries, zoos etc. to reopen;
  • Professions with physical contact such as hairdressers to restart;
  • Increasing the number of attendees at weddings and funerals;
  • Outdoor sports training to resume and how to resume sports and cultural events;
  • The issue of day trips, second homes or the holiday homes will be addressed during the preparation of phase 3 (estimated date: 8 June).

27/04/2020 - Generic guide "Safe at work"

This generic guide is the result of co-operation between the social partners in the High Council for Prevention and Protection at Work, the Economic Risk Management Group, the FPS ELSD and the policy unit of the Minister for Employment.

Based on their expertise, they have developed a tool that carries considerable support, containing a number of necessary and minimum building blocks to enable workers to return to work as safely as possible in the post-lockdown period.  

This generic tool can then be further customised by the different sectors to take maximum account of their sector-specific context, and by any employer who needs it, so that activities can be restarted in safe conditions.

24/04/2020 - General suspension for companies affected by the coronavirus measures

A new Royal Decree provides for a temporary suspension during which any debtor company is in principle protected against conservatory and enforcement attachments and any declaration of bankruptcy (or judicial dissolution).

Please be aware! This is without prejudice to the obligation to pay debts.

We return to this subject in our article "The coronacrisis and insolvency".

24/04/2020 - Belgium has defined its exit strategy

Strict lockdown measures will remain in place until 3 May. Thereafter, Belgium could start phasing out the measures, if circumstances permit.

The strict containment measures will certainly remain in place until 3 May. Belgium could then start phasing out the measures, if circumstances permit.

Rules remain in force

Certain rules remain in force, even as were scaling down the measures, such as:

  • Limiting contacts between people;
  • Respecting safe distances;
  • Good hygienic reflexes, also called “barrier gestures”.

Covering the mouth and nose

Covering the mouth and nose is important when scaling down the measures. This can be done using a so-called comfort mask or an alternative means of protection such as a scarf or a bandana. This is:

  • recommended in public places,
  • mandatory on public transport for users aged 12 years and over. This measure will enter into force on 4 May. A mask alone does not provide adequate protection, it should be considered within the wider use of mouth masks, hygiene measures and physical distance.

The federal government and the federated states will work together to ensure that every citizen receives at least one standard fabric mouth mask free of charge that completely covers the mouth and nose. People will also be given two “filters” to put into masks that have been bought or made. Surgical masks and FFP2 masks are reserved for healthcare professionals, residential care centres, residential facilities and security services.

In the workplace, employers – also in the public sector – must protect their employees if necessary.

But covering mouth and nose alone does not provide sufficient protection if the safety distances and hygienic measures are not complied with.

The use of public transport

Gradual phasing out will inevitably lead to an increase in the use of public transport. In order to avoid crowds, it is advisable:

  • to travel by your own means (walking, cycling, car, etc.) in order to give priority to those who need public transport most;
  • and to avoid rush hour.

Work floor

In terms of work organisation, the Group of Ten has validated a generic guide to good practice. This will serve as a basis for sector or company agreements to be concluded. It will also serve as a benchmark for a progressive restarting of the economy under safe and secure conditions for all.

Phasing out strategy

  1. Phase 1 – a (4 May)
  • For industry and B2B services

Working from home is still the standard. For example, if companies cannot meet the physical distancing requirements, they will be able to compensate by following a series of health recommendations, such as wearing a mask.

  • For shops and the hospitality industry

The rules do not change, except for the fabric shops, which – given their important role in the production of mouth masks – are allowed to open their doors.

  1. Phase 1 – b (11 May)
  • For shops

This phase allows all shops to reopen at the same time – without discrimination on the basis of size or industry – in order to give everyone the same chance of success. This will of course be subject to conditions. These will be determined in consultation with the industries and the social partners.

There are three types of conditions, relating to:

– work organization,

– welcoming in customers,

– and restricting access to shops to avoid hustle and bustle.

Carrying out so-called contact professions (such as hairdressing, for example) is not permitted at this stage.

  • For everyday life

We will also clarify the future of sports competitions in the short term.

  1. Phase 2 (18 May)
  • For shops

We will look at whether and under what conditions so-called contact professions can be resumed, again under certain conditions.

  • In the area of culture

The opening of the museums can also be considered during phase two, also under certain conditions, for example through a ticketing system.

  • As far as daily life is concerned

Team sports will be possible in the open air, but only in a club setting and subject to certain conditions.

  1. Phase 3 (From 8 June at the earliest)

Multiple points will be examined:

– How to organise the possible and gradual reopening of restaurants and, at a later stage, cafes, bars and the like. This will in any case have to be done under strict conditions.

– Various summer activities such as trips abroad, youth movement camps (to be decided at the end of May), internships, tourist attractions but also smaller open-air events.

The only certainty is that mass events such as festivals are not allowed before 31 August.

Conditions to succeed:

Testing and tracing will play an important role in ensuring the scale-down takes place under the best possible conditions.

As far as testing is concerned, the intention is to offer a laboratory test to all people who need it, i.e. anyone who has symptoms and who the doctor suspects to be infected, people who have been highly exposed to the virus because of their profession, and people who have had intensive contacts with an infected person.

For tracing, a coordinated strategy will be set up between the Regions and Communities, with the support of federal experts.

22/04/2020 - Extension of the Council of State's time limits  

Following the example of proceedings before the civil courts and tribunals, a Royal Decree of Special Powers was issued on 22 April 2020 in order to guarantee rules and time limits for proceedings before the Council of State and the written procedure during the coronavirus crisis.

The adapted procedures are in force from 9 April.

In concrete terms, the following measures will be in force:

  • Time limits for introducing and processing proceedings before the Administrative Jurisdiction Division of the Council of State, which expire during the period from 9 April 2020 to 3 May 2020 inclusive (final date which may be adapted by the King) are automatically extended by 30 days at the end of this extended period (i.e. until 2 June 2020).
  • Requests for suspension in cases of extreme urgency: these cases will be dealt with by written procedure or, exceptionally, by video/audience via Skype (this measure remains in force until 2 June 2020).
  • All other requests and appeals (other than those of extreme urgency) may be dealt with without a public hearing, provided that all parties request so or agree, up to 60 days after the date of expiry of this period (i.e. until 2 July 2020).

The final date of 3 May 2020 may be postponed by Royal Decree. In that case, all deadlines are extended until 30 or 60 days after the new expiry date of this period.

21/04/2020 - circular on the impact of corona measures on public procurement

In our article "Corona crisis and public procurement" we already reported on the impact of the corona measures on the implementation of current public procurement contracts.

The question arises as to whether these measures can be regarded as "unforeseeable circumstances" within the meaning of public procurement legislation.  

These and other questions are now also dealt with in a circular of 10 April 2020 (Circular RD 2020/01).

This is addressed to the Flemish government, the Flemish public institutions, the local and provincial administrations and the administrations of worship services.  

This circular not only clarifies the impact of the corona measures on public procurement and recommendations for contracting authorities, but also introduces measures to support contractors. These are intended to avoid or limit liquidity problems and to provide points of attention for public contracts in progress. 

Companies are explicitly asked to continue to carry out their contracts as much as possible, respecting in particular all necessary health and safety regulations.

And in the event of an interruption in implementation, they are expected to continuously evaluate the situation and resume the contracts as soon as possible.

The Flemish government has indicated that an additional circular with further directives is being prepared to simplify the administrative and legal handling of public contracts for the authorities and companies as much as possible. 

We will keep you informed in any case.

20/04/2020 - No additional extension of processing deadlines and public inquiries in the Flemish Region

Friday evening 17 April 2020, the Flemish Minister for the Environment, Zuhal Demir, announced that she has decided that there will be no additional extension of processing deadlines and public inquiries for environmental permits and spatial implementation plans.

Public inquiries suspended because of the corona measures can be continued after 24 April. New public inquiries can also be launched from then onwards.

Minister Demir explains this decision as follows: "The local authorities indicate that they are sufficiently operational to continue their work and are not asking for an additional extension. It is not necessary anymore to suspend deadlines. For many private individuals, investors, but certainly also the construction sector, this is therefore positive news".

16/04/2020 - Brussels support measures for tenants and students

On 16 April 2020, the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region decided to take additional measures for specific sectors.

The following measures were taken with regard to rental contracts, both housing and student.

1. Relaxation of notice periods

  • For housing rental contracts, where the notice period is normally (at least) 3 months, the notice period will be suspended as of 16 March and this for as long as the corona measures are in force. However, tenants must continue to pay rent during this period of suspension, as long as they occupy the rented property.

    This measure results in an extension of the terminated housing rental contract as it is also provided for in Flanders.
  • For student rental contracts and short-term rental contracts for a student house, the notice period of (at least) 2 months is shortened to one month.
    The student who rents something must of course continue to pay his rent during the shortened notice period.

    These exceptional arrangements do not apply if the owner and the tenant have a different agreement.

2. Exceptional premium for tenants with loss of income

In addition, the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region has also provided for an exceptional premium to be granted to the most vulnerable tenants who suffer loss of income so that they can pay their rent.

The allocation rules are currently being worked out and will be submitted for approval to the Council of Ministers on 24 April.

15/04/2020 - Measures against coronavirus extended until 3 May 2020

The National Security Council prolonged the measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus until 3 May 2020.

The existing regulation for companies remains in force, except for garden centres and do-it-yourself shops, which may reopen under the same conditions as food shops, and respecting the 'social distancing' rules.

It has also been decided that no festivals may take place during the months of July and August.

Decisions on the fate of other shops, cafes and restaurants and the travel sector will follow later.

A new National Security Council will take place next week.

11/04/2020 - new measures of the government against coronavirus

All these measures are adopted by the Council of Ministers before they are sent to the Council of State. Please find below the most important measures for companies:

  • The introduction of a temporary moratorium on company bankruptcies.
    Any company that is struggling to pay off its debts as a result of the corona crisis, is protected from pre-judgment attachment and executive attachment, bankruptcy and court-ordered dissolution. In addition, the payment terms that are included in a reorganisation plan, will be extended. And agreements concluded before the entry into force of the royal decree cannot be unilaterally or judicially dissolved.
  • Tax exemption for voluntary overtime (220 hours) in the so-called critical sectors until 30 June 2020.
  • Measures for the horticultural and forestry sector. It will be possible for the temporarily unemployed to work temporarily in a flexible way and without loss of income in these sectors. In this way, for a full working day, employees will receive, for example, the normal wage for the job performed, and 75% of the temporary unemployment benefits.
  • An easing of flexible working hours, secondment and temporary work in order to facilitate making permanent employees of other companies available to employers in “critical” industries. Mechanisms to protect workers against social dumping, such as the principle of equal pay for equal work continue to apply, of course.
  • Working hours of students in the second half of 2020 will be neutralised, so that they do not count towards the calculation of the quota (475 hours per year). Students can therefore reinforce the labour force in critical industries, such as retail or food.
  • The possibility of short successive contracts of fixed duration in critical sectors for a period of three months.
  • Access for asylum seekers to the labour market provided that they have filed their application with the CGRS. They will have the possibility to work for the duration of the procedure, including the duration of any appeal against the decision, which is submitted to the Council for alien law litigation. The goal is to compensate for the lack of workers, in particular seasonal workers.
  • Confirmation of a bridging right for people who are “typical” self-employed as their secondary occupation in the case of self-employed persons, paying the maximum contribution; “adapted” for certain self-employed as their secondary occupation (with an income between 6996.89 EUR and 13993.78 EUR) and active  pensioners (income >6996.89 EUR) who are forced to interrupt their activities by the corona crisis.
  • Granting a State guarantee was also discussed during the meeting for certain credits earmarked for combating the economic repercussions of the coronavirus. The purpose of this Decision is to provide new credits of up to 50 billion for non-financial corporations, including the self-employed, and legal entities in the non-profit sector. This measure will have retroactive effect (1  April) and has been adopted this weekend by the Council of Ministers to be published in the Belgian Official Gazette.

10/04/2020 - No need to go to the notary anymore

There is no longer any need to physically go to the notary's office to sign a deed of sale, a donation, or for most notarial deeds.  

It will be sufficient to give a digital proxy to a trusted person or an employee of the notary so that the latter can sign the deed on behalf of a party. This digital proxy can be given via a videoconference initiated by the notary. All that is required is an electronic identity card with the correct PIN code or the itsme application. During this videoconference, the notary explains the functioning of the digital proxy and also the draft of the notarial deed that will be signed by means of this proxy.  

This is an authentic proxy and therefore prevents any further discussion.

9/04/2020 - Publication of new measures with special powers to combat the coronavirus

These include several measures of the federal government concerning :

  • the extension of limitation periods and other time limits for legal action as well as the extension of procedural time limits and written procedure before the courts;
  • criminal procedure and the enforcement of sentences and measures provided for in the context of the fight against the spread of the coronavirus;
  • co-ownership and the companies and associations legislation;

as well as measures of the government of the Brussels-Capital Region of special powers relating to aid for the compensation of companies affected by the corona measures.

We are examining these measures and will adapt our articles on them.

 

6/4/2020 - refund of cancelled package tours

When a package travel contract is cancelled due to the corona crisis either by the tour operator or by the traveller, the tour operator is entitled to issue a voucher for the value of the amount paid, instead of making a refund.

This voucher must meet the following conditions:

  1. to represent the full value of the amount paid by the traveller;
  2. be delivered free of charge;
  3. be valid for at least one year;
  4. explicitly state that it was issued as a result of the corona crisis;
  5. only serve as a title vis-à-vis the tour operator who issued it;
  6. the traveller may spend the voucher at his choice.

The traveller cannot refuse the voucher that meets the conditions.

However, if this voucher has not been spent within the period of one year following its issuance, it must be redeemed at the traveller's request.

The tour operator has a period of six months to reimburse the voucher after such request.

Tour operators are obliged to keep a permanent record of all vouchers issued, their value and their holder.

The tour operator's insurance covers the reimbursement of vouchers in the event of insolvency. 

3/4/2020 - Corona measures updated

The Ministerial Decree containing urgent measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus COVID - 19 has been updated on 3 April.

The list of shops that are allowed to operate is extended, and include, only for emergencies, and by appointment:

  • telecom shops excluding shops that only sell accessories;
  • shops for medical devices.

They may only receive one customer at a time. 

Access to supermarkets can only take place according to the following modalities:

  • maximum 1 customer per 10 square meters for a maximum period of 30 minutes;
  • to the extent possible, individual shopping is advised;

These measures are applicable until 19 April 2020. They will be evaluated and they may be prolonged again. 

The annex of the Ministerial Decree containing the list of companies in the key sectors and essential services is also updated.

27/03/20 - Measures against coronavirus extended

The National Security Council took the decision to prolong the reinforced measures already taken previously to fight against the corona crisis. From now on, the measures that came into force on Wednesday 18 March 2020 will remain in force at least until 19 April 2020 included.

The situation will be evaluated regularly. The measures could possibly be extended for a further 2 weeks.

27/03/20 - "Nuisance" premium can be requested

VLAIO launched a tool for applying for the "nuisance" premium, which can be found at www.vlaio.be/coronahinderpremie.

The application must be submitted to VLAIO at the latest on 5 May 2020. 

24/03/20 Competition 

The European Competition Network (ECN) did a joint statement on application of competition law during the Corona crisis. This statement is available by clicking here.
The ECN will not actively intervene against necessary and temporary measures of companies put in place in order to avoid a shortage of supply of scarce products to all consumers. But at the same time, the ECN will not hesitate to take action against companies taking advantage of the current situation by cartelising or abusing their dominant position

The Belgian Competition Authority recently announced they won't handle notifications during the corona crisis.

24/03/20 - Participate at the Seeds of law competition 

As always, we like to keep our finger on the pulse because this is the only way we can think along with you strategically.

We therefore plan to give special attention to tips that may be of use to you during this period. It is now extremely important to keep your company on track while keeping it as pleasant and interesting as possible.

We would therefore be delighted to hear from you what you are waking up to in this corona crisis and what actions and activities you are undertaking. 

That is the challenge right now. And maybe we can help you or put you in contact with other entrepreneurs who can help you.

That is why we would like to launch a competition. The person or company who gives us the best tip wins a free consultation of one hour. Every month until the end of the corona crisis, a winner will be selected.

So if you have any tips, please visit CoronaTaskforce@seeds.law. We will get back to you as soon as possible if you win our price.

24/03/20 - The Flemish government receives extended powers in environmental law during a situation of emergency.

A decree of 20 March 2020 containing measures in case of civil emergencies in the field of public health is published on 24 March 2020 in the Belgian Official Gazette. 

The most important elements are the following:

  • No permit is required for the construction and operation of additional hospital - and other care facilities, additional production facilities for the manufacturing of medicines and medical equipment and for research facilities;
  • the Flemish government has been delegated the power to suspend or to extend mandatory procedural, or to temporarily adapt certain procedural obligations.

22/03/20 Agreement about a state guarantee to cover loans to businesses

The federal government, the National Bank of Belgium and the financial sector have reached an agreement about a state guarantee to cover loans to businesses.

This agreement consists of two pillars:

  • The financial sector undertakes to grant viable non-financial businesses and self-employed persons, as well as mortgage borrowers who are experiencing payment problems as a result of the corona crisis, a deferral of the installments until 30 September 2020 free of charges.
  • The federal government will activate a guarantee scheme to cover all new credits and credit lines running for a period of maximum 12 months, to be granted banks to non-financial companies and viable self-employed persons. This will ensure that the financial support of the economy is maintained.

18/03/20 Urgent measures of the government against the coronavirus

The Ministerial Decree on urgent measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus COVID – 19 can be consulted by clicking here.

Would you like to learn more about this subject?

Contact our experts or telephone +32 (0)2 747 40 07
Leo Peeters

Leo Peeters

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Koen De Puydt

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Toon Rummens

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Sidney Van Ommeslaghe

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Toon Delie

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Tracy Enta

Tracy Enta

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Gloria Inés Delgado Villegas

Gloria Inés Delgado Villegas

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Imad Touil

Imad Touil

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Yousra Aberike

Yousra Aberike

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Victoria from Seeds of Law

Victoria from Seeds of Law

Our virtual associate and spokesperson
Stéphane De Keyzer

Stéphane De Keyzer

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Ann Vranken

Ann Vranken

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Anja Trullemans

Anja Trullemans

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Ilse Vandenberghe

Ilse Vandenberghe

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