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Update 28 january 2021

The Belgian journalists’ unions provided us with this very useful information

The Belgian government has recently introduced new measures with regard to travel and professional activities. As always, interpreting these rules can be challenging.

To facilitate your work, here’s an overview of the current travel and quarantine rules that apply to journalists in Belgium:

  1. Travel
    The Federal Government has announced a ban on all non-essential travel to counter the growing number of infections. One of the exceptions to this ban applies to journalists who have to travel abroad for professional reasons. More info: https://journalist.be/2021/01/reisverbod-spaart-journalisten

In order to apply for the travel exemption, you must be able to identify yourself with a press card and fill in a statement on honour which you must carry with you throughout your trip. You can find the document here.

  1. Quarantine
    In the beginning of January, the Belgian rules regarding travel introduced a measure to facilitate professional travel of 48h or more, by creating a possibility to avoid quarantine based on a risk assessment of your travels. In short: as a tourist, quarantine is mandatory no matter what; but as a professional traveler quarantine is not necessarily mandatory but depends on your documents and whether you engaged in ‘risky behavior’ while abroad.

How does it work?
In addition to the Passenger Locator Form (PLF), you also have to fill out a Business Travel Abroad (BTA) form before you travel. Based on the info in their PLF and BTA, professional travelers can be exempt from quarantine based on a risk analysis from their travels when they return to Belgium.

How do you know whether you have to quarantine?
When you conclude the PLF and BTA before you travel back to Belgium, you will either receive an SMS calling for you to quarantine or you won’t receive an SMS.

Some tips, based on previous experiences:
Double check whether your BTA is correctly attached to your PLF (which you do via a business travel section in the PLF). The document can glitch, and if your travels aren’t indicated as ‘professional’ in the form, then the quarantine procedure is immediately triggered.

If problems arise, you can contact this address: PLFBelgium@health.fgov.be. (Though they take a few days to reply)

In addition to this rule, the Flemish Journalist Union (VVJ) has obtained a declaration from the Flemish Minister for Media that journalists who have been in a red zone abroad for more than 48 hours for professional reasons can indeed apply for exemption from quarantine obligations as a ‘critical function in an essential sector’ (at least in the absence of symptoms). This requires an attestation from the employer that it is indeed a critical function and a necessary activity that cannot be postponed.

In case of troubles, you can find the complete letter here (in Dutch): https://journalist.be/2021/01/journalisten-kunnen-na-opdracht-in-buitenlandse-rode-zone-vrijstelling-van-quarantaine-krijgen

So even if you do receive a quarantine obligation, then you can still perform your correspondent duties if they are critical and you do not have symptoms or tested positive.

  1. Testing
    All these exemptions for journalists do not apply to testing, where the same rules apply. This makes sense, as the rule exemptions are aimed at facilitating essential functions, without endangering others.

Tests are mandatory if you stay abroad for more than 48h and/or if you travel by.

If you spent less than 48 hours abroad, or are spending less than 48 hours in Belgium AND you traveled by car or public transport, there are no travel requirements that apply to you.

If you test positive or if you have symptoms, all the exemptions mentioned above do not apply to you.

  1. Will it get easier?
    Unfortunately, these rules will be as good and clear as it gets in the near future.

Calls for uniform travel rules for journalists throughout the EU have remained limited to non-binding recommendations.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) had plans to make an overview of travel rules for journalists in different countries, but this plan has been abandoned, because it’s simply too complicated with all the day-to-day changes in different countries.

With thanks to Margot Cassiers – Researcher/Producer @ Headline NFP, part of DMA Media

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