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Belgians return to bars and restaurants but not without virus fears

Written by corres2

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Sitting at the Roy d’Espagne terrace on the Grand Place in Brussels, Ian Panne enjoyed his first beer in a restaurant after Belgium eased almost 12 weeks of coronavirus lockdown.

Employees at the 2 stars Michelin restaurant Le Chalet de la Foret, wearing protective masks, prepare food as restaurants and bars reopen after weeks of lockdown restrictions amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium June 8, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman

“I would never have thought that having a beer on the Grand Place would be so emotional,” Panne, a 48-year-old antiques dealer, told Reuters.

Belgium allowed almost all businesses to reopen on Monday, including bars and restaurants, but social distancing measures must remain.

At the Roy d’Espagne restaurant, one table in two is left empty and customers have to scan a QR code for the menu. Waiters are protected by masks or plastic shields.

That has not deterred 39-year-old Caroline Michils, who said the measures were for everyone’s safety.

In contrast, Florence Vandenhoeck, 68, said the masks and the emptiness of the Grand Place, usually packed with tourists, were a frightening sight.

Monday also marked the resumption of religious ceremonies such as masses. Up to 100 worshippers are allowed, with face masks, social distancing and sanitizer the norm.

“We have to think about a lot of things in terms of health security, but from a spiritual and human point of view it is a very beautiful moment,” priest and spokesman for Belgium’s episcopal conference Tommy Scholtes said.

Belgium is set for three years of lost growth from the COVID-19 pandemic as the 2021-2022 recovery will fail to make up for a 9% decline forecast for this year, the central bank said on Monday.

Belgium has 59,348 cases of COVID-19 and 9,606 deaths.

Reporting by Bart Biesemans, Christian Levaux, Clement Rossignol and Francois Lenoir; Writing by Marine Strauss; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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