By: V4 Agency
The Belgian premier announced some significant easing of restrictions, but catering providers are unhappy as they would like an earlier reopening. Alexander De Croo believes that speeding up vaccinations is the key to defeating the pandemic and gradually phasing out the current restrictions.
Belgium’s Consultation Committee has decided to ‘cautiously’ loosen certain COVID-19 restrictions, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced after the committee meeting.
“After all the obstacles and uncertainties of the past few months, the roll-out of the vaccination becomes a solid basis for the reopening,” the premier said, adding that the country is in a key moment, when decisions must be tailored to the situation, that is, restrictions will be loosened gradually.
As to the country’s mass vaccination drive, there is room for improvement in Belgium. Latest figures show that 21 per cent of the population has received the first dose of the vaccine and only 6.9 per cent – slightly more than 600 thousand people – has also got the second. Belgian authorities estimate that 70 per cent of the population must be inoculated to enable the country to return to normal. It is likely to happen around September, according to Belgian economic newspaper L’Echo.
The inoculation campaign, however, is making rather slow progress, mainly due to the fact that Belgium has so far received only one tenth of the vaccines it had pre-ordered. There are currently three vaccines administered in the country. Out of the ordered 12.5 million Pfizer/BioNTech jabs, only 1,841,775 doses have arrived at Belgian warehouses. As for AstraZeneca, authorities ordered 7.5 million doses and only 823,200 have arrived. Belgium has also signed a contract for the shipment of 5 million Janssen and 2.9 million CureVac jabs, but has received none, as authorities are waiting for the European Medicines Agency’s approval.
Although Belgium’s inoculation drive appears to be a rather uneven ride, the country will begin its gradual reopening soon. After the Easter break on 19 April, schools will return to face-to-face education, with only secondary students having to engage in hybrid learning: they are required to physically attend school half the time, while the remaining classes are delivered online.
As of 19 April, non-essential travel to any EU country will be possible for Belgian residents, albeit strongly discouraged. Those who travel to countries in the so-called red zones must self-isolate for a week upon return to Belgium and have a test both at the beginning and the end of their quarantine. Police will oversee the enforcement of these regulations and anyone violating them will face a fine of 250 euros.
Shops selling non-essential products can reopen from 26 April and the so-called social “outdoor bubble” will grow from 4 to 10 people.
Starting from 8 May, the existing night curfew will be replaced by a ban on gatherings of more than 3 people in public places from midnight to 5 in the morning. The measure also applies to the capital, Rudi Vervoort, Minister-President of the Brussels-Capital Region, announced.
The terraces of cafés and restaurants, as well as amusement parks, can also reopen from 8 May.
The Belgian government is planning to allow full reopening for catering units as well as for sports and cultural facilities in early June, subject to further consultations.
Restaurant owners, however, are unhappy with the government’s decision, indicating that they are determined to open on 1 May, a week before terraces are allowed to reopen. The government insists on reopening on 8 May, arguing that eight days – during which time more than half a million people are expected to be vaccinated – will make a difference. Alexander De Croo explained this in a television programme, asking people to keep their calm and stay responsible, because conflict was the least that Belgium needs in the current situation. He stressed that the difference between the government’s date and the one set by the catering providers is only eight days, Rtl.be wrote.