Belgium sets out plan for easing, with bars to reopen on May 1

Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo speaks during a news conference after a government meeting, to announce new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) related restrictions, in Brussels, Belgium March 5, 2021. Olivier Matthys/Pool via REUTERS

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo set out a roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions on Friday, even as COVID-19 infections rose, with restaurants, bars, gyms and cinemas set to reopen on May 1.

De Croo gave Belgians a glimpse of light at the end of a five-month period of restrictions that have only allowed schools, shops and, more recently, hairdressers to operate.

"The situation remains very delicate. We must remain cautious and we must do everything to keep the situation under control," De Croo told a news conference after a meeting of ministers, health experts and regional leaders.

The government decided that from Monday, 10 people will be allowed to meet outside, from four now, and university students can attend 20% of lectures in person.

Belgium will also lift a ban on non-essential foreign travel on April 18, just after school Easter holidays.

The limit of one visitor allowed inside a home remains.

From April 1, Belgians should be able to enjoy theme parks and amateur sport. Indoor activities will reopen on May 1.

If cases spike in the coming weeks, the calendar could be revised. Social distancing and mask-wearing rules remain in place and testing and vaccinations should accelerate

"The only real exit plan is the vaccination plan," De Croo said.

New hospital admissions rose to a daily average of 155 on Thursday, from 125 in recent weeks. De Croo said the figure was likely to rise further but was not a reason to panic.

Around 22,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Belgium, among the world's highest per capita fatality rates. But the coronavirus has been brought under more control than in neighbours Germany and the Netherlands and the number of deaths is falling.

(Reporting by Marine Strauss; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Alex Richardson)

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