On Tuesday evening, Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon stated that from 9 June, hosting garden parties for over ten people is allowed, with or without professional catering, going back on what he said last weekend.
Last weekend, Jambon said that garden parties with more than ten guests would only be possible if a professional caterer was hired, leading to confusion about what was and wasn't allowed - mainly because the Ministerial Decree has not been published yet.
However, "from 9 June, the next date relaxations are going into force, we will allow garden parties for 50 people, caterer or no caterer," Jambon said on a Flemish talk show on Tuesday evening.
He stressed that the authorities would not be sending the police into people's gardens to check on what they are doing, as everyone "knows what is and is not allowed by now."
"Actually, the protocol for the hospitality sector also applies to garden parties: tables 1.5 metres apart, and no more than four people at a table," Jambon said.
Explaining his earlier statements about having to hire a caterer, he told VRT that "caterers were allowed to organise banquets and receptions, and I thought it was fairly logical that the caterers were then also allowed to do that in someone else's garden."
However, this sparked a lot of incomprehension and criticism from people saying that Jambon's statements implied that only people with enough space and money to hire a professional caterer could invite more than ten people at once.
"That is why I consulted my colleagues in the Consultative Committee, and we have arrived at this new regulation," he said, highlighting the importance of the measures being supported by the population.
In response to Jambon's announcement being made on a talkshow on Tuesday evening, at the same time as the much-viewed semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest, instead of an official press moment, CD&V president Joachim Coens tweeted: "Is this how we inform people?"
On Wednesday morning, Coens took to Flemish radio to plead for "unambiguous communication," and also added that the rules for garden parties are still not 100% clear to him.
"It is supposed to go according to the rules of the hospitality industry, but [bars and restaurants] have to close at 10:00 PM," he said. "Does your garden then also close at 10:00 PM?"
On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced that the decisions of the Consultative Committee from last week have been clarified with the various Minister-Presidents, so that garden parties of up to 50 people are also possible without a caterer, from 9 June.
The decisions still have to be published in a Ministerial Decree, however, which will be sent to the Council of State as soon as possible, and can only be published after its approval, according to the cabinet of Interior Affairs Minister Annelies Verlinden.
'Not everything that is allowed, is also smart'
In the meantime, infectious disease expert and chair of the GEMS expert group advising the government Erika Vlieghe, stated on local Antwerp radio
that she was "shocked, because this is going very fast."
"I do not know how big your garden is, but you cannot accommodate 50 people in mine," she said. "Additionally, 9 June is pretty early, because the virus is still circulating. A lot of people have not yet been vaccinated. We must give the vaccination campaign every opportunity to maintain our lead against coronavirus."
"If we do not interact with each other safely, we could ruin it all in the short term," Vlieghe stressed. "Not everything that is allowed, is also the smart thing to do."
Even though the practical details of organising such a party still have to be worked out, she regrets Jambon's communication, saying that "people just remember that you can have a garden party for 50 people, not how that should work."
"It is not easy to organise such a thing safely on your own. Parties are held with people you like: friends, family such as grandparents, Vlieghe said, stressing that vulnerable people who have not been vaccinated yet could be there, or that young and old people could mix.
"I hope that the government will issue clear guidelines on how to organise something like this safely," she added. "My message: wait first, and if you do want to organise something: do it in small groups."
According to Vlieghe, there is "no magic number or specific vaccination level to reach so we can let go of all rules. Everything depends on where the epidemic stands, what context we are in, and how we follow the rules."