Life in Brussels during COVID-19
Brussels, the capital city of Belgium, offers a lot to do. Like every other big city, it needs to adapt itself to the existing safety measures. Being a Brussels based student, I will show you how life during COVID-19 is managed.
By: Paulien Debrie
Editors Note: These are strange times. Pauline is Brussels based student writing for TravelAnne.com as part of a virtual internship with Heintz Media Group. We asked her to share a bit of her life in Belgium's Capital City.
Normally, I would have written this article about life in Brussels in different circumstances. I suppose I would have sat at a desk outside Washington. DC at the offices of Heintz Media Group. I would have had a computer in front of me... a glass of water on my right side, a notebook with a pen on my left side. Every now and then, I would have taken a break and checked in on my family and friends.
Between you and me, I try to imagine myself being there while writing. Unfortunately, the pandemic has changed a lot.
Since high school, I have dreamed of studying abroad. I attended lots of gatherings – when this was still possible – about different exchange and internship programs. There was one program that I was immediately interested in: an internship program in Washington, DC.
I submitted various documents to prove I was the suited candidate for this internship program. In May 2020, I got very good news. I had been selected by The Washington Center for the internship!
The Washington Center is an independent, non-profit organization. They offer internships and academic seminars. Through this organization, I got the unique opportunity to get to know Heintz Media Group.
During the application interview, HMG owner Les Heintz told me he was working on a travel blog. His wife, Anne, was an independent travel advisor. Together, they wanted people to know that traveling is still possible during the pandemic.
Ironically, it was restricted for international students like me to go to Washington DC. However, I was very lucky to meet someone as flexible and positive minded like Les. He assured me we would make the best out of this virtual internship.
So, here I am! Happy to introduce myself as a proud virtual intern with Heintz Media Group, and as a contributing member of TravelAnne.com.
As I write this article – sitting at a desk in Brussels –, there has been a further increase in the number of people testing positive for coronavirus in Belgium. Safety measures need to be taken. People need to be careful.
So, what is it like to live in Brussels right now?
A lot of things can still be done in Brussels. The majority of the museums are open. Cultural activities are taking place in concert halls, theaters, and cinemas. Guided tours are organized. All Brussels based shops are open. People can enjoy a drink or a meal at bars and restaurants. Brussels is pretty much back in business.
Obviously, there are safety measures in place. From October 1, wearing a face mask outdoors is no longer mandatory except when social distancing (1.5 meters or 5 feet) is not possible. It is an obligation to always have a face mask with you. However, on a local level, authorities can require to wear face masks. Moreover, it is compulsory to wear it at entrances and exits of schools and in shopping areas.
Furthermore, cultural activities are limited to 200 people indoors and 400 people outdoors respecting social distancing. This also counts for guided tours, limited to 50 people.
Restaurants and bars are open. People can take place at a table with a maximum of 10. You don’t need to make a reservation, but it is recommended. All hospitality establishments are required to close at 11 PM. It is compulsory to wear a face mask, except when you are seated at your table.
Some restaurants and bars are investing in heated outdoor terraces, or already make use of it. The weather is getting colder and the seating inside is still limited. By expanding the restaurant’s or bar’s capacity, they hope to welcome more guests than previously was possible.
Plus, wearing face masks on public transport, in stores, and cinemas is also obligatory. A lot of public and private places accessible to the public use plexiglass at front desks and provide hand sanitizing stations.
Brussels is also hosting more than 100.000 students. On September 21, the academic year has started for a lot of them, including me. My university, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), tried to organize as many in-person courses as possible in the first week. They wanted to welcome students in a personal way, taking account of the safety measures.
Besides the internship at Heintz Media Group, I attend two VUB courses. While one of them had an in-person introduction, both are virtual from the second week on. Luckily, the number of people in my class is small. Other courses with a large number of students are likely to be at different locations in Brussels or are split up into smaller groups.
Some of the class locations are pretty impressive! Depending on schedules, students take courses in the Flemish Parliament (https://www.flemishparliament.eu/). The culture house of Flagey is another possibility (https://www.flagey.be/en/). The building formerly was the headquarters of the national radio and television institution. Today, this is a place where artistic disciplines can meet and exchange ideas. Or, students can join a course at the movie theater. Besides two rooms, Cinematek offers an impressive collection of films (http://cinematek.be/?node=11&donate=0&lng=nl).
In class, everyone needs to wear face masks. You can’t sit next to each other. Depending on the capacity of a room, the number of people allowed inside differs.
Of course, students need to relax, too. Unfortunately, they can’t go back to the classic ‘student life’. My friends and I are creative to meet with each other while complying with the safety rules.
Throughout the week, I live in Brussels together with my roommates. We make use of the housing facilities at VUB – the Dutch word for this is: ‘to live in a kot’. In Belgium, you can have closer contact with the people you are living with during the pandemic. So, we dine together at restaurants, visit the city, sport together.
Besides them, you can have closer contact with 5 other people at most. This means that every other person I am living with can see 5 people by choice. Lastly, you are allowed to see everyone you want, as long as safety measures are followed and as long as there are no more than 10 persons involved.
There are various alternatives for spending the night with friends. So far, we organized a movie night, we played a quiz, we cooked together. But, there are also nice COVID-friendly places to go in Brussels.
I have been living in Brussels for two years now. I am still discovering all of its unique places. Brussels is by far one of my favorite cities in Belgium and Europe… but I suppose I’m a prejudice!”
Editors Note: Since this article was filed, Belgium announce new restrictions. For details, please see this update. Click Here
*** **Paulien Debrie is a Brussels based student completing her Master’s Degree in Communications. She is also a virtual intern with Heintz Media Group and is a contributor to TravelAnne.com.