Many countries across Europe are reducing restrictions post a slight fall in the second wave of coronavirus cases with long holiday season also in sight.
Non-essential shops in Belgium were reopening Tuesday in the wake of encouraging figures about declining daily coronavirus infection rates and hospital admissions, AP reported.
The government is fearful, however, that the change might lead to massive gatherings in the nation's most popular shopping centers and streets. Over the weekend, pre-Christmas light festivals already led to crowded scenes in several cities, prompting warnings from virologists about the dangers of reopening too soon.
Belgium, host to the headquarters of the 27-nation European Union, has been one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe during the pandemic. Belgium has reported more than 16,500 deaths linked to the virus during two surges in the spring and the fall.
Under the new rules, shopping has to be done alone or with a minor or a dependant person. Time in a shop is limited to half an hour. Restaurants and bars remain closed.
On Tuesday, Ireland ended a second partial coronavirus lockdown , with non-essential shops, hairdressers and gyms unlocking their doors after six weeks of tough restrictions.
Museums, galleries, libraries, cinemas and places of worship also reopened as the nation lifted virus curbs in place since October 22, AFP reported.
On Friday, pubs and restaurants serving food will follow suit, although drinking-only establishments will remain shuttered.
Ahead of Christmas, the government is also urging people to wear masks outdoors on "busy streets", starting on Tuesday.
Infection rates are bound to rise in the run-up to the festive season, foreign minister Simon Coveney told state broadcaster RTE on Monday.
"The challenge is to keep that increase as low as possible," he said.
According to latest official figures, there have been 2,053 deaths from coronavirus in Ireland, a nation of five million.
Under the relaxed restrictions in effect from Tuesday, household visits remain off-limits and people have been told not to travel outside their county of residence.
However, last week the government announced plans to ease pandemic curbs over Christmas and New Year.
From December 18 to January 6, up to three households will be permitted to mingle and inter-county travel limits will be lifted.
"This cannot and will not be the kind of Christmas we are used to, but it will be a very special time when we will all be able to enjoy some respite from the hardships of 2020," Martin said.
The move comes one day before the end of England's lockdown as cases stabilise.
Earlier, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had announced that lockdown restrictions will be eased out and local restrictions will come in place.
(With agencies inputs)