Measures taken by the National Security Council of April 24th, 2020

On the basis of recommendations from the Group of Experts in charge of the Exit Strategy (GEES), the National Security Council met today, Friday April 24th, to determine the exit strategy from the corona crisis. Hopeful indicators, such as the reduction in the number of daily hospital admissions or the flattening of the mortality curve now make it possible to start phasing out very gradually. But the government stresses that the virus is still present on our territory and remains dangerous.

It is important to emphasize that certain rules remain in force, even as were scaling down the measures. Rules such as:

– Limiting contact with people

– Respecting safe distances

– good hygienic reflexes, also called “barrier gestures

– Use of masks in public areas and public transport for users aged 12 years and over.

– Travel by your own means instead of public transportation and avoid rush hours.

Phasing out strategy

The strict containment measures will certainly remain in place until 3 May. Belgium could then start phasing out the measures, if circumstances permit. All of the following dates are subject to change depending on the health situation and the evolution of the virus.

  • Phase 1-A (4 May)

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.

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

Working groups are already studying how to respond to the need to continue to provide the best care to people infected with covid-19 while gradually and safely expanding access to general and specialised health care. The aim is to ensure that everyone regains ‘normal’ access to healthcare as soon as possible and that the medical infrastructure needed to care for people suffering from the virus is not overburdened.

Physical activity in the open air is allowed with a maximum of two people in addition to those living under the same roof, provided that physical distance is always respected.

It will also be allowed to practice other non-contact sports in the open air. But access to changing rooms, communal showers and cafeterias is still forbidden.

  • Phase 1-B (11 May)

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 clients 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.

Future of sports competitions will be also clarified in the short term.

  • Phase 2 (18 May)

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

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

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

Lessons will very gradually resume from the 18th of May. Not all pupils/students will be able to go back to school immediately. Each Community will be responsible for implementing this decision on its own territory, in consultation with the education sector.

Also, certain possibilities will be examined, such as:

– the ability to hold private meetings at home

– the ability to permit more people at weddings and funerals.

– allowing more than two people to be active outdoors together

– the possibility to organize day trips to certain regions of the country.

  • Phase 3 (8 June at the earliest)

Multiple points will be examined:

– How to organize 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.

 

Source: Belgian.be

Extension of the measures taken by the Walloon Government against Covid-19

On 22 April, the Walloon Government presented additional measures to address the consequences of the health crisis in the region. Main measures taken:

 

Economy / Employment

285 million in addition to the 233 million euros already allocated in March to support the economy, businesses and the self-employed workers:

Extension of the categories for the fixed allowance of Sectors concerned: mechanics, artistic and entertainment businesses, gyms, horse-riding centres, cinemas, real estate agencies.

Introduction of a second fixed allowance of 2,500 euros for self-employed workers/businesses that have only been able to operate partially during the containment period and have benefited from the right of transition.

Creation of the transitional loan for self-employed workers who need cash to get through the transition. Loans of a maximum amount of 45,000 euros at a favourable interest rate and for a maximum period of 5 years. This loan will be financed in two thirds by the banks and in one third by the public entity SOWALFIN. This last one will guarantee 75% of the reimbursement. Attention! The repayment loan cannot be cumulated with the overall compensation.

In total, the Government estimates that between 110 and 115,000 self-employed persons/enterprises will benefit from this aid.

 

Health/social measures

1 million for the purchase of food for entities active in food aid.

Increased support for housing infrastructure (in addition to that already granted in March) to help them cope with the additional costs related to the crisis: an additional 250 euros for residents in mental health centres and housing infrastructures for people with disabilities and an additional 400 euros for each bed authorised in the MR-MRS.

Hiring of 140 psychologists who will provide support and accompaniment to the residents and care staff of these reception centres.

Assistance for the accompaniment of disabled people confined in their homes

5 million euros reinforcement for the financing of the Walloon CPAS to enable them to meet new needs and new target groups.

Financial support for the 88 family and elderly care facilities and the 6,500 workers in this sector: 80% compensation for the loss of co-payments (for the covid lost hours) provided that the workers for whom the hours are declared are not unemployed.

Overall compensatory aid of 5,000 euros to the 124 companies approved as Social Economy Initiatives, to the Structures for Supporting Self-Creation of Employment (SAACE), to the Advisory Agencies on the Social Economy (ACES).

 

Housing

Loans at 0% interest granted by the Société Wallonne de Crédit Social for tenants who have difficulties paying their rent. Maximum term of 6 months, repayable in 36 months.

Kot: possibility for students to terminate the student rental contract early.

Authorisation to extend the current lease for those who cannot move.

 

Energy

Gas/electricity: aid of 100 euros (electricity) and 75 euros (gas) for people who have a budgeted counter (aid in the form of a deduction on the regularisation bill). This measure affects some 100,000 Walloon households.

 

Water

For citizens with payment difficulties:

Prohibition of any suspension of water supply and limitation of water flow for a period of 60 days from 1st April 2020.

Reinforcement of the aid granted by the Public Social Assistance Centres (CPAS) to people in a precarious situation with an exceptional additional allocation of 500,000 euros to the Water Social Fund.

 

For the self-employed, SMEs and companies:

With a simple request, a deferral of payment of invoices or a deferral of payment will be granted.

Revision of the quarterly advances to take account of the decline in activity.

Extension of traditional deadlines.

Speeding up payments by public water companies to subcontractors and suppliers

Staggered payment of water tax

 

Research

25 million to finance research projects carried out by Walloon companies in the fight against the coronavirus.

 

Non-commercial sector

Securement of grants to associations that can prove that the suspension of their activities is related to the Covid-19 crisis. This measure is intended to maintain employment in the association sector and ensure the viability of these actors who meet the essential needs of our society before, during and after the crisis.

 

 

Source: Wallonie.be

 

Containment measures extended up to May 3rd

The Prime Minister, Sophie Wilmès, announced some new measures following the National Security Council meeting on Wednesday 15 April, the most important one was the extension of the containment measures currently in force up to and including 3 May.

Following this decision, do-it-yourself stores and garden centers will be able to re-open, under the same conditions as food stores while social distancing will need to be respected. Also residents of residential facilities – i.e. rest and care homes or centers for people with disabilities – will be allowed to be visited by a pre-designated person. The condition is that the person in question has not shown any symptoms of the disease in the past two weeks. These rules will also apply to people who live in isolation and are unable to move around.

The basic rules will remain unchanged until 3 May and must be followed strictly. The public order services will continue to monitor this. A new National Security Council meeting will be organized next week with the aim of developing the next step in phasing out the measures. The goal is to organize this  phase-out strategy from early May and this will gradual based on the advice of the scientists. This strategy will be based on several pillars, namely social distancing, large-scale screening as well as tracing, and the development of new rules to be applied in the business world.

It is clear that wearing a face mask – even a so-called comfort mask – will also play an important role in the phase-out strategy. Fabric masks will be recommended for any situation where social distancing cannot be maintained. In order to do so, a collective effort will be needed, including the start-up of national production. However, face masks cannot replace the hygiene measures or social distancing.

In the short term, the National Security Council will give its opinion on the analyses and proposals of the group in charge of the exit strategy, including the right timing and conditions for the gradual re-opening of shops and catering establishments, as well as on the approach to schools, internships, youth movements and travel. It has already been established that mass events such as festivals cannot be organised before the end of August.

As regards the business community, the current rules will continue to apply until such time as the protocols can be ratified on a sector-by-sector basis. The aim of these protocols is to enable companies to resume their normal activities as soon as possible, while also guaranteeing adequate working conditions for their employees, adjusted for the situation. Working from home should continue to be preferred for some time to come.

Source: Info-coronavirus.be

Extension of the economic and social measures for companies taken in Belgium due to Covid-19

Belgian Government approves new socio-economic measures

Last Saturday, April 11, the Inner Cabinet, extended to include the representatives of the ten parties met in a virtual meeting to approve a serie of decrees with socio-economic measures in addition to those already approved to combat the effects of the coronavirus.

Details of the additional measures:

  • Withholdings for the professional income tax and VAT due in April are deferred and can be paid until July 15 and 20.
  • The introduction of a temporary moratorium on Company bankruptcies. During this difficult period, any Company that is struggling to pay off its debts as a result of covid-19, is protected from pre-judgment attachment and executive attachment, bankruptcy and court-ordered dissolution. In additios, the payment terms that are included in a reorganisation plan, will be extended. And agreements concluded before the entry into forcé of the royal decree cannot be unilaterally or judicially disolved.
  • Tax exemption for voluntary overtime (220 hours) in the so-called critical sectors until 30 June 2020.
  • Possibility for the temporarily unemployed to work temporarily in a flexible way and without loss of income in the horticultural and forestry sector.
  • An easing of flexible working hours, secondment and temporary work in order to facilitate making permanent employeed of other companies available to employers in “critical” industries.
  • The possibility of shor successive contracts of fixed duration in critical sectors for a period of three months.
  • Freezing the degressive nature of unemployment benefits during the crisis period.
  • 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 máximum contribution; “adapted” for certain self-employed as their secondary ocuppation (with and income between 6996.89€ and 13993.78€) and active pensioners (income >6996.89€) who are forced to interrupt their activities by Covid-19.

Source: Belgium.be

Measures to limit business impact in Flanders due to Coronavirus

To limit the economic impact of the coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak on both businesses and the economically unemployed, Flanders and Belgium have announced a series of measures to support all those who are financially affected by the coronavirus.

Tax measures

  • Postponement of the tax filing deadline. For VAT, corporate income tax, legal entities income tax and corporate income/non-resident tax, the filing deadline has been automatically postponed:
  • VAT return and EC sales listing deadlines related to February were postponed to 6 April 2020. The ones related to March or the first quarter of 2020 were postponed to 7 May.
  • For all other taxes, deadlines have been postponed from 16 March to 30 April 2020.
  • Deferred payment of personal income tax, withholding tax, VAT and social security contributions. For certain tax debts, payment will automatically be deferred. Late payment interest will also be annulled.
  • VAT – payment related to February is postponed to 20 May 2020, payment related to March or the first quarter of 2020 is postponed to 20 June.
  • Withholding tax – payment related to February is postponed to 13 May 2020, payment related to March or the first quarter of 2020 is postponed to 15 June.
  • Legal entities tax, corporate income tax, non-resident tax – for tax settlements established from 12 March 2020, the normal period will automatically be extended by 2 months.
  • Payment by installments for tax debts. Companies that can prove that they are facing difficulties resulting directly from the coronavirus outbreak are eligible for staggered tax payments for debts established before 12 March 2020. They will also be exempt from late payment interest and non-payment fines.

Financial incentives

  • Nuisance incentives. The government of Flanders provides ‘nuisance incentives’ of EUR 4,000 for companies that are affected by and were forced to close because of COVID-19. For those only affected by closure during the weekend, Flanders offers a one-time premium of EUR 2,000. In addition, all affected companies will receive EUR 160 EUR per day, starting from the 21st day of closure.
  •  SME growth subsidy. If your SME needs help to get back on its feet after the coronavirus crisis, you can apply for a grant via government agency Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO).
  • Increased flexibility in requirements for support measures and subsidies. For several subsidies granted by Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship, the requirements have been lowered.

Investment guarantees (PMV)

  • Coronavirus crisis guarantee. Flanders’ government has expanded investment firm PMV’s ‘generic’ guarantee capacity of EUR 1.9 billion by adding a coronavirus crisis guarantee of EUR 100 million. The associated one-time premium rate has been lowered to 0.25% instead of 0.5%. Under the generic guarantee scheme, which will be fully deployed, an existing credit, line of credit or previously guaranteed lease can be extended. The additional coronavirus guarantee is meant to:- make it easier for companies to receive bank financing for their working capital if they have been unable to pay outstanding invoices due to the COVID-19 outbreak;
    – enable companies and self-employed individuals to have a ‘bridging loan’ guaranteed for existing non-bank debts for up to 12 months (adding 9 months to the 3-month period under the ‘generic’ guarantee scheme);
    ​- allow guarantees for bank debts – in addition to supplier debts – related to existing lines of credit or non-guaranteed investment loans (provided that that the bank is also prepared to grant at least 3 months of payment deferral or to maintain lines of credit).
  •  Payment suspension for SMEs. Entrepreneurs benefitting from the Start-up Loan, Co-financing and Co-financing+ schemes (granted by PMV/z) are temporarily not required to repay this financing. The direct debits foreseen for repayment of capital and/or interest are automatically suspended for all borrowers. The suspension is valid for 3 months and will be extended to 6 months if necessary.

Mortgages and loans

  • Postponed mortgage payments. Financially sound companies that were hit by the coronavirus/COVID-19 crisis can ask their banks to suspend their mortgage payments until September 2020. This measure also applies to economically unemployed individuals.
  • Financial guarantee for loans of up to 12 months. The federal government made a deal with the financial sector to earmark EUR 50 billion to cover potential losses due to loans that cannot be repaid. This guarantee will cover all loans that run for up to 12 months and are currently taken out by businesses and the self-employed.
  • Crisis warranty. Companies and self-employed workers can have a bridging loan guaranteed for existing debts – for wage payment, purchase of raw materials or outstanding invoices etc. – that cannot be paid due to the coronavirus crisis. This warranty can be obtained on top of existing guarantees for investment loans and working capital. 1,000 loans of EUR 100,000 can be guaranteed (below the 75% regional warranty). This measure is applicable until the end of 2020.

Other measures

  • Temporary unemployment. The national employment office RVA will consider all temporary unemployment related to the COVID-19 crisis as “due to force majeure”. The application procedure for receiving subsequent temporary unemployment benefits has been simplified as much as possible:- Employees must submit a benefit application by filling in the simplified form that can be found on the website of the payment institution of their choice.
    – Employers must submit an electronic declaration of the hours of temporary unemployment in the course of the month concerned. This can be done online via the social security portal (ASR), under “Scenario 5 – Monthly declaration of the hours of temporary unemployment or hours of suspension of employees”. Another option is to send a structured batch file to the social security portal via your payroll services provider.
  • ​​Teleworking. Both the federal government and the government of Flanders encourage teleworking as much as possible. In case the employer intervenes in the costs of teleworking (internet connection, additional laptops…), this can be a tax-free allowance as well as a beneficial lump sum valuation for social security purposes.
  • Flexibility in executing a federal public contract. No fines or sanctions will be imposed by the federal government in case a federal public contract incurs delays or cannot be executed due to the coronavirus crisis.
  • Support for the tourism industry. The government of Flanders has earmarked EUR 5 million for youth and social tourism measures. Additionally, government agency Visit Flanders will no longer collect rent from youth hostels, which adds up to an additional EUR 1 million in support.

 

Source: Flanders Investment & Trade

Communication to our members about COVID19

Following the recommendations of the Belgian government, the Luxembourg government and international health recommendations, we inform that the facilities of the Official Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Belgium and Luxembourg will remain closed until April 3rd. The safety and health of people must be the absolute priority at this time.

From the Chamber, the necessary measures are being assumed to stop the spread of the epidemic as far as possible with initiatives such as teleworking and telematic meetings, this ensure the continuity of the Chamber‘s services and activities, in addition to the cancellation of our events, meetings and trips.

 For any questions or information, you can contact us through the following email or telephone:

Through our website, as well as our newsletters and social networks, we will keep informing you about the calendar of activities and news of interest to our members.

Best regards,

The Chamber