The four-person rule will apply for Christmas, and authorities are trying to make sure that people who show up for backyard celebrations do not end up spending time indoors. Anyone inviting guests over needs to have a garden or backyard that can be accessed without walking through the house, which essentially means that people who live in detached homes can have guests over but those who live in rowhouses cannot. “You are not allowed to go through an interior space first, because then there is a risk that many people will be together in a small space,” Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden told Het Laatste Nieuws on Monday.
A spokesperson for Verlinden added another major caveat: Only one guest who is chosen as a “close contact” can be allowed inside the house to use the bathroom. Other visitors are banned from going inside for any reason, including grabbing a drink or food.
“So if you really have to go to the toilet, there will be nothing else to do but return home,” the spokesperson told local media, according to the Brussels Times.
The rules are part of the broader shutdown regulations imposed at the beginning of November, which are expected to extend through February. The shutdown also instituted a practice of “knuffelcontacts,” or cuddle contacts, allowing those living alone to have physical contact with one person outside of their household.
As some European countries begin to loosen restrictions following massive spikes in cases and hospitalizations in the fall, Belgium is not the only country where people and businesses have been scrambling to figure out just what is permitted and what is not.
In Britain, the debate over requirements for pubs to reopen has boiled down to the characteristics of a menu item, the Scotch egg, as pubgoers and lawmakers ponder just what constitutes a “substantial meal,” alongside which alcohol can be served under new rules.
Across the continent, countries are trying to ensure Christmas gatherings can proceed in some form, while addressing the concern that heightened travel and gatherings could lead to yet another spike in cases.
Michael Birnbaum contributed to this report.