Compliance with Belgium's teleworking obligation has to be increased drastically, announced Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Federal Work Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne during a press conference on Tuesday.
"Until now, we could say that we were in a stable situation, but since a few days we have to say that we are in a slightly rising situation as far as infections are concerned," De Croo said.
"We see that mobility has increased, both in the figures and when talking to people," he said. "We see that traffic jams have grown again, and that circulation has grown."
"The rules that we have are the right rules, but we have to abide by them," De Croo said. "An important part of those rules relates to the workplace. Teleworking is and remains compulsory."
"We are fully aware that most people have been teleworking for a year, and that it is tough," he added. "Nevertheless, my message remains: we must persevere. We must."
"Respecting teleworking is one of the keys to keeping the situation under control today," De Croo said, adding that it helped Belgium to avoid the third wave.
However, he also said that there is some perspective to be given. "Just as we have given some perspective to the hospitality industry and the events sector, the same prospects are there for teleworking. But then we have to stick to the rules today."
In future, relaxing the teleworking measures will be possible, but not today, according to De Croo.
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"Teleworking has many advantages when it can be done once in a while, but 100% is difficult and demanding," said Dermagne. "It is not easy, and requires a sustained effort from everyone."
However, according to the GEMS expert group advising the government, teleworking is "one of the most important elements in the fight against the coronavirus," he added. "And so, it remains mandatory."
Federal Minister for Civil Service Petra De Sutter also underlined that teleworking is very important. "Looking at the figures for the past few months, we see that 45% of employees were teleworking in January. The figures for February are in the same line."
"We want to avoid a third wave at all costs, because that would be a very heavy blow to the economy of our companies," Pieter Timmermans of the Federation of Belgian Businesses (VOB) stressed. "We must remain vigilant."
"That is the reason why the employers' organisations, together, came to the conclusion that we have to persevere now. The sanitary measures - such as hand gel and social distance - remain crucial. We fully endorse that," he said.
"However, within that general measure, teleworking is a special measure. We have to note that teleworking has been going on for so long," Timmermans said, adding that there is "an impending form of telework fatigue."
He referred to De Croo's promise of perspective, possible after the Easter holidays if the situation permits, for moments during which employees can return to the office. "We are looking forward to a return moment after the Easter holidays somewhere."
The Brussels Times