Belgium's Crisis Centre has urged people to celebrate Christmas and New Year's with a small, fixed group of people, during a press conference on Friday.
"We can safely assume that it is sensible to celebrate Christmas and New Year in our small circle this year," virologist and interfederal Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht said. "That is the safest option, but there will always be a risk."
Apart from celebrating in a small group, it is important to pay attention to the holidays following each other closely.
"Christmas, for example, is dangerous. We sit close together, we eat and drink together," said Van Gucht. "If the virus starts spreading then, people will be very infectious roughly six days later, which is New Year's Eve."
"If we sit close together with people again, maybe even a different group of people, then the virus can spread very easily," he said. "And for that, we will pay a week or two after New Year."
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Van Gucht stressed that it is not safe to have several celebrations in several small circles, one after the other. "We have to be very careful. Keep the circle very small, and preferably also hold on to the same circle."
Additionally, the authorities will also work out certain guidelines on how to celebrate the holidays safely, based on the advice of experts, according to Van Gucht.
"It goes without saying that these directives will also depend on the figures, which are currently still evolving," he added.
Virologist Marc Van Ranst already stated that it might be possible to have 2 instead of 1 so-called cuddle contact for the holidays, if the figures continue to evolve favourably, adding that "it won't be an ordinary Christmas" in any case.
Van Ranst’s comments, however, are in stark contrast to an urgent plea by Elisabeth De Waele, head of the intensive care unit (ICU) of the UZ Brussel university hospital, who said any major relaxation could be disastrous for the health sector.
“We will have a Christmas rush in the ICU in that case, we won’t be able to do it. Sorry, we can no longer do that,” she said.
De Waele was reacting to statements by Georges-Louis Bouchez, the head of the Francophone liberals (MR), who the day before had said Christmas should not be celebrated “via Skype” and that gatherings of up to four people could still be possible.
Ahead of the Consultative Committee meeting taking place today, however, Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke stated that a decision on the possibility of easing the lockdown measures before Christmas will not be taken "for at least two weeks."
The meeting – which started at 2:00 PM via videoconference today – will only assess the current situation, Vandenbroucke said.
A relaxation or tightening of the rules is therefore not on the agenda, according to him. "We hope to agree on a strategy within the next two weeks," but we are "navigating on sight."
The Brussels Times