And so it finally came to pass: Belgium has finally made the transition to the closest form of normality known since the outbreak of the pandemic two years ago. It has been a gruelling journey that put the country's public patience, political cohesion, and healthcare system to the test.
With the national vaccination rollout largely a success and the most recent Omicron wave subsided, the end to most of the restrictions that constantly impinged on daily affairs has at last arrived. Freedoms that only a few days ago were withheld – like walking unmasked into a shop or filling concert halls to capacity – have evaporated overnight, much to the delight of concerned sectors.
Yet the lifting of the many measures that had become second nature was hardly met with the jubilation we once would have expected. Last year, some tub-thumping politicians not far from Belgium tried to boost their public standing by announcing to great fanfare a widespread loosening of restrictions, only to be haunted by their ploy as infections skyrocketed soon after, forcing embarrassing U-turns.
It would also be premature to say that Europe's protracted battle against the virus is completely over; although circulating within the EU will now be much easier since the Passenger Locator Form will largely be dropped, not all regions are yet considered sufficiently clear of Covid to forego this precaution.
However, it is impossible to ignore the Ukraine war that continues to weigh heavy on the continent with each day the Russian assault continues. The painful plight of its citizens has prompted near-daily protests in Brussels that have eclipsed the previous protests against Covid measures – one conflict succeeding the other.
With war unfolding so close to home, the winds of celebration couldn't fail to be snatched from Belgium's sails, with EU representatives meeting again in the capital to discuss the tensions and Ukraine's accession to the bloc.
Yet it would be unfair to deny ourselves completely a dose of thankfulness for the passing of a major scourge that impacted us all. Prime Minister De Croo gave voice to the levity of the moment when strongly assuring Belgians that "going to events, going to the movies, going to concerts… it is all absolutely recommended from now on."
There is a limit to the doom and gloom anyone can take. As Europe faces its gravest threat to peace since the Second World War, we should be all the more appreciative of what freedom really means.
Feeling grateful? Let @Orlando_tbt know.
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