Belgium experiments with 'corona bubbles' to ease social restrictions

That is the dilemma the Belgian government has handed its citizens as it moves to the next phase in easing restrictions on everyday life. After ordering pubs, bars, restaurants, theatres, gyms and leisure centres across the country to close indefinitely, Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressedthe public on March 23; outlining strict exercise and shopping limits, ordering all shops other than food stores and pharmacies to close, and implementing a ban on public gatheringsof twoor more people. First Secretary of State Dominic Raab, while deputising for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he recovered from coronavirus (COVID-19), announced on April 16that theU.K.lockdown would continue for at least another three weeks. The government is also delivering an unprecedented economic relief package aimed at businesses and individuals hitbythepandemic,which is estimated to cost over £400 billion. A pedestrian in a face mask is reflected in the window of a closed shop in the borough of Newham, east London, England on May 2. A rise in the popularity of baking during the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown appears to have caused many major supermarkets across the UK to suffer a shortage of flour in recent weeks. Over 125,000 birthday cards were sent to Captain Tom Moore, who raised over £30 million by walking 100 laps of his 25 metre (82 feet) garden before his 100th birthday, which were organised in the Great Hall of the temporarily-closed Bedford School in Bedford, England on April 28.   NHS workers hold a minute's silence outside the main entrance of Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, England on April 28. Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes a statement, while flanked by windows showing children's drawings of rainbows supporting the NHS, on his first day back at work in Downing Street after recovering from a bout of coronavirus (COVID-19) that put him in intensive care, in London, England on April 27. Imported automobiles sit at the docks in the shadow of wind turbines in Sheerness, England on April 23, as new car sales are down a reported 44 percent in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.  A cyclist passes a piece of grafitti of artist BK Foxx wearing her grafitti mask, created by French street artist Zabou, in East London, England on April 19.  Mounted police patrol by the area outside the Bank of England in the capital's financial district in London on April 15. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) warned the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic could see the U.K. economy shrink by a record 35 percent by June.  A man wears a religious placard on Market Street in Manchester, England on March 25.  Workers sell food and household items to local residents from their ice cream van at a supported housing estate in west Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 1. The pair turned their van into a mobile mini-market selling essential items to residents who are on lockdown due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Soldiers and private contractors help to prepare the ExCel centre in London, which is being made into the temporary NHS Nightingale hospital comprising two wards, each of 2,000 people, to help tackle coronavirus, on March 30.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a press conference on the ongoing situation with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic with chief medical officer Chris Whitty (L) and Chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance (R) in Downing Street after he had taken part in the government's emergency Cobra meeting in London, England on March 16. Belgium’s prime minister, Sophie Wilmès, announced the plan last week, after being accused of prioritising the economy over people’s wishes to be reunited with friends and family. Allowing social bubbles to start on Sunday, Mother’s Day in Belgium and much of continental Europe, is no accident. “The physical separation from those whom we love has in some cases become unbearable,” Wilmès said, but visitors are told not to hug or exchange the typical three-kiss greeting. I understand the spirit, but the letter [of the law] is completely impossible,” said Anne, a 45-year old finance director, who preferred not to give her surname. “The problem is that the way the idea was communicated was not very clear from the start,” said Karen Phalet, a professor in psychology at the Catholic University of Leuven. Epidemiologists advising the government chose the number four because it matches current capacity to do contact tracing if someone falls ill. Pairing two households also reduces the risk- multiplier effect that would come from allowing more varied mixing, but epidemiological models do not square with how people socialise in real life.