Belgium extends commuter benefits to all electric bicycles

UNTV News   •   May 24, 2017   •   2780

A cyclist steers his bicycle on a beach facing the North Sea near the village of De Haan, Belgium January 23, 2016. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Belgium on Thursday extended commuter tax benefits for cyclists traveling to work on any electric bicycles.

Employers in Belgium can currently reward staff if they come to work on a bicycle, paying them for every kilometer they cycle, in an effort to promote environmentalism and a healthier lifestyle.

Commuters can get 23 cents ($0.26) per km cycled between their home and their place of work.

The new law covers electric bicycles that can reach up to 45 km per hour (28 mph). Those limited to 25 kmh were previously covered.

“We want to encourage cycling for commutes for obvious reasons, notwithstanding the type of bicycle used,” Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt said in a statement.

Belgium paid out some 93 million euros in 2015 for more than 400,000 users of the scheme which has almost doubled since 2009.

(Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; editing by Philip Blenkinsop/Jeremy Gaunt)

Hospital staff in Belgium stage silent protest as PM Wilmes visits

UNTV News   •   May 18, 2020

Belgian Prime Minister, Sophie Wilmes, was met by a silent protest during a non-official visit to Saint-Pierre Hospital in Brussels on Saturday (May 16).

A video obtained by Reuters showed medical staff wearing protective equipment standing silent in two rows and turning their backs as the Prime Minister arrived in a car.

The workers staged the protest to call for increased acknowledgement of their efforts and against a decree to recruit unqualified staff to carry out nursing activities, according to local media.

Belgian schools will partially reopen and markets, museums and zoos will also be allowed to operate again from Monday (May 18), Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said on Wednesday (May 13), in a further easing of the country’s two-month coronavirus lockdown.

Belgium, with a population of 11.5 million, is among the European nations worst hit by COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, but it began a phased easing of the restrictions at the start of May.

The country has so far reported 54,989 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 9,005 deaths. (Reuters)

(Production: Oleksandr Ieltsov, Hanna Rantala, Gabriela Boccaccio)

Deaf Belgians demand transparent masks for lip-reading during COVID-19 pandemic

UNTV News   •   May 7, 2020

As Belgium obliges people to wear face masks on public transport and recommends them elsewhere to limit the spread of the coronavirus, deaf people are calling for transparent masks to allow them to communicate with others.

For the hearing-impaired who rely on lip-reading to complement sign language, even buying an ice cream can now be difficult as shop assistants wear medical or home-made cotton masks that cover almost half the face.

“We are no longer able to read lips. It prevents communication,” said Marie-Florence Devalet of Belgium’s French-speaking deaf federation, saying it can add to the anxiety of living through a pandemic.

Over 5% of the world’s population – or 466 million people – has disabling hearing loss, according to the World Health Organization.

Belgium, like other European countries, is slowly coming out of lockdown as the wave of transmission of the coronavirus eases, but donning masks is new to much of the population.

With green and white medical masks around the world in short supply, transparent masks are even harder to find. Some are advertised online but usually end up being face shields for the whole head and worn by medical staff in hospitals.

At the Royal Woluwe Institute in Brussels, a special-needs school, teachers are sewing masks that contain a transparent window to show the mouth, which can be especially important for children with autism.

However, each mask takes 30 minutes to make and requires a double layer of cotton fabric, ribbons and a plastic sheet.

One charity in Belgium’s Dutch-speaking Flanders region has created videos in Dutch teaching people how to make the masks with a transparent window for the mouth. French and English videos are being developed. (Reuters)

(Production Clement Rossignol, Christian Levaux)

Belgium issues first ever red code weather alert over high temperatures

Robie de Guzman   •   July 25, 2019

Belgium’s weather authority issued its first ever “code red” warning as the country was experiencing the hottest temperatures on record, the Royal Meteorological Institute said on Wednesday (July 24).

The warning is issued when the average maximum temperature for three consecutive days is at least 32 degrees and the average minimum temperature is no less than 22 degrees. People are advised to stay inside as much as possible and drink plenty of water.

The temperature in Belgium struck 39 degrees Celsius on Wednesday, smashing the previous record of 36.6 C hit from June 1947 in records dating back to 1833, according to David Dehenauw, the head of forecasting at the institute.

Dehenauw added temperatures on Thursday were expected to rise even higher.

“We saw that the criteria were fulfilled and then we issued “code red” for a large part of the country except the coastal area because there the temperatures will be less severe but I think it’s absolutely necessary to issue code red,” Dehenauw said.

With no outdoor bathing area in Brussels, children were taking advantage of fountains to cool down, while tourists in the city centre rushed to ice cream shops and enjoyed drinks in the shade. (REUTERS)

(Production Bart Biesemans and Caroline Dade)

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