COVID-19 – Information for expats in Brussels
Dear international Brusseler,
The COVID-19 pandemic poses an unprecedented challenge to all of us, both towards the public health of our citizens as well as in terms of the negative socio-economic side-effects it has on our society.
It also has consequences for your daily life here in Brussels. We fully understand that you may have concerns or questions. Therefore, we would like to inform you in the best way possible on:
- the latest information on the restrictive and healthcare measures that have been taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19;
- how the virus impacts on your job or your company;
- how the measures affect your life as an expat;
- the many initiatives that have been taken to support each other throughout these difficult times.
WHERE CAN I FIND THE LATEST INFORMATION ON THE AUTHORITIES’ RESTRICTIVE AND HEALTHCARE MEASURES?
Belgium is in a so-called reinforced phase 2, aiming to contain as much as possible the impact of the virus. This phase 2, or federal phase of crisis management, implies that the National Security Council takes all policy decisions, while the various interministerial and interregional crisis units concretise these decisions, and are being coordinated by a Federal Coordination Committee.
Both the Belgian and Brussels health authorities, and the whole health sector at large, are extremely vigilant and introduce all available measures focusing on public health protection. Since 18 March Belgium has put in place various measures to prevent the spread of the virus. These measures have currently been extended until 19 April.
- The website info-coronavirus.be serves as the main information platform and centralizes all relevant information such as restrictive measures, the (dis-)continuity of certain public services and stores or shops, measures related to transport and journeys, working conditions in companies, childcare and school, what to do when you feel sick, and so on. Make sure to also have a look at their frequently asked questions page.
- In need of a doctor? The phone number 1710 has been created specifically for all Brusselers and serves as a dispatching of general practitioners, who will advise them and refer them where necessary. Priority target group are people who have a cough, a cold or a fever and suspect that they have contracted the coronavirus.
- A toll-free number is available 7/7 from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm (10:00 am – 8:00 pm during weekends) for all your additional questions via +32 (0) 800 14 689.
- For more specific measures and information taken by the authorities of the Brussels-Capital Region, please visit coronavirus.brussels. This website will be regularly improved and updated and will also contain many information on compensation measures in the next days to come. All information is available in French and Dutch, we are currently working at full pace on the full translation of the page to English and to other languages.
HOW DOES THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC IMPACT ON MY JOB OR MY COMPANY?
We know the restrictive measures have a disruptive effect on the economic life in Brussels. As a result, many Brussels (and Belgian) companies are no longer operating normally and are obliged to adapt to the new situation. This poses a lot of questions. What happens if I am quarantined? What are the conditions for teleworking? Will I continue to be paid? Can my company profit from support measures? Let us guide you through it.
Frequently Asked Questions for employees
The Office of the Brussels Commissioner for Europe and International Organisations has published a laundry list of all relevant questions that you as an employee might have. You may find the full overview here, while below we sketch out the most frequently asked below.
- What happens if I am infected with the coronavirus and I am unable to work? As always, employees must justify their absence with a medical certificate. However, this medical certificate is not always mandatory from the first day of incapacity to work. Employees in this situation are paid just as followed by mutual insurance benefits).
- What if my children’s school closes? In this case, resorting to temporary unemployment is not possible. In these extraordinary times we ask you to find a solution for child care. If no solution is found, you have to take time off work to look after your children or ask to telework from home. That having said, while lessons will be cancelled (nursery/ primary/ secondary), schools will only ensure the reception of children for which the parents work in health care or in the essential public sectors, or when the parents have no other option but to receive care from the grandparents.
- What happens if I stayed in an affected region for professional or private reasons, and I am now placed in quarantine by the Belgian authorities on my return to Belgium? As the conditions for temporary unemployment due to force majeure are met, the National Employment Office (NEO) has confirmed that your employer may apply this type of unemployment for this employee. Please note that if you provide a medical certificate, your employer can no longer apply temporary unemployment due to force majeure and is bound to pay the employee the guaranteed salary in the event of sickness.
- What happens if I stayed in an affected region for professional or private reasons, and I am unable to return to Belgium (in time) because my flight has been cancelled or because I am quarantined abroad? As the conditions for temporary unemployment due to force majeure are met, the NEO confirms that the employer can apply this type of unemployment for you.
- What happens if I decide on my own initiative to stay at home after visiting a coronavirus-affected area, or I want to stay home as a precaution? Employees may not decide on their own initiative to place themselves in quarantine or to declare themselves unfit for work. Unless they can justify their absence by means of a medical certificate, they will not be paid. That having said, teleworking is mandatory for all non-essential services, regardless of their size and for all employees for whom this is possible, without exception. If you want to work from home employers are expected to grant you the option of teleworking or taking vacation; an agreement with your employer remains necessary however, as this is not an absolute workers’ right. When telework is not possible, companies must guarantee social distancing. This rule also applies to the organisation of transport by the employer. If these measures are not complied with, these companies risk fines in the event of a first infringement. In the event of a second infringement, they must close down.
Frequently Asked Questions for companies? Check 1819.brussels!
Is your company based in Brussels? 1819.brussels, the regional information and guidance service for Brussels entrepreneurs hosted by hub.brussels (Brussels Enterprise Support Agency) answers all your questions about the impact of COVID-19 on your business. Whether you are a Brussels company or a foreign company based in Brussels, the 1819 platform you will get informed on:
- All measures taken by the authorities
- Aid to companies, businesses and the self-employed
- Employer-employee relations
- The functioning of your company
- Health instructions
- Various phone numbers and information sites
The FAQ page on the coronavirus for entrepreneurs will be particularly helpful for you. It is compiled from official sources and is continuously updated. The advisers of 1819 will answer your questions from Monday to Friday by telephone (call 1819 on any weekday from 9 am to 5 pm), or by e-mail via firstname.lastname@example.org.
HOW DO THE RESTRICTIVE MEASURES IMPACT ON MY LIFE AS AN EXPAT OR TEMPORARY RESIDENT IN BRUSSELS?
We are aware that these measures also pose very specific challenges to the lives of expatriates and other international Brussels residents. What happens to my rental contract? Can I still return to my country of origin, or can family members visit me? What happens if my work or residence permit expires?
For all these specific questions we advise you to contact the Expat Welcome Desk of the Brussels Commissioner for Europe and International Organisations. Although working from home they remain at your service via e-mail, phone and even videoconference. You may find all contact details on their webpage.
ARE THERE INITIATIVES TO IMPROVE MY WELBEING AND WAYS TO HELP EACH OTHER IN THESE DIFFICULT TIMES?
Of course there are! These extra-ordinary times call for solidarity between us Brusselers and Belgians. The last couple of weeks we have seen many initiatives being born. Here is a list of those that got our attention.
- Brussels Helps. What can you do to help fellow Brusselers during the corona crisis? And how can you ask for help yourself? This online platform assists in bringing people together with “Brussels helps”. You can either register as a person in need, or sign up as a volunteer. People help each other with many things such as doing groceries, providing medicines, writing letters, making phone calls, walking someone’s dog, and so on.
- Steunpunt Vrijwilligerswerk (the Volunteer Support Center) bundles various initiatives in Brussels which are looking for volunteers. This page is only in Dutch, however.
- Register as a volunteer at UZ Brussel. They need lots of helping hands and every help is very much appreciated.
- Subscribe to Iriscare if you have experience as a healthcare worker and want to volunteer. Iriscare creates a pool of voluntary professional care providers.
- The foodbanks are also looking for extra volunteers. No need to tell you why this is a difficult time for them.
- Growfunding is making its platform freely available for solidarity campaigns throughout Belgium. You can submit a project and raise money for those affected by the crisis.
- The bottom-up initiative corona denktank (“corona think tank”) has launched several initiatives such as makefacemasks.com; wijhelpenmee.be to donate, transport or create protective equipment.
- Participate to the weekly Corona Survey of the University of Antwerp! Scientists need your help in assessing the impact of the governmental restrictive measures, as they will only be visible in the hospitalisation rates 10 to 14 days after they were launched. If we all answer this questionnaire, experts will be better able to assess the evolution of the corona curve and they will be able to respond to these evolutions more quickly.
- Everyone OK? Is an online intervention tool that can help you to feel calmer and to keep on functioning day to day. It’s a scientifically sound step-by-step plan of about 45 minutes. You can go through it solo, or with your housemates. Because we want everyone to feel OK.
Should you have further questions, or feedback on how to better reach out to you as an international Brusseler, please do not hesitate to let us know via email@example.com.
Take care of yourself and others, and remember #StayHome and #StaySafe