What’s on the table at today’s Consultative Committee?

What’s on the table at today’s Consultative Committee?
Credit: Belga

Belgium’s Consultative Committee will meet again this afternoon to discuss extra measures to halt the rapid rise of the Omicron variant in the country.

Based on leaked advice from the GEMS expert group given to the government, two types of possible restrictions will be on the table: measures to be taken immediately, and measures to be taken only if the epidemiological situation worsens.

“If we know what we want on Wednesday, then it must happen immediately,” Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said on VRT television programme ‘Terzake’ on Monday evening. “We do not want to end up in a complete lockdown, certainly not for children or personal contacts. I hope to take precautionary measures at the Consultative Committee.

While a complete lockdown is not on the table, a number of strict measures for the end-of-year festivities seem to be unavoidable, according to reports in local media.

The reintroduction of contact bubbles should be considered, according to the GEMS advice: a maximum of just two or three households should be allowed to meet at the same time, and only with all the necessary precautions (ventilation, self-tests, social distance, face masks,…)

The closing time in the hospitality industry should be brought forward from 11:00 PM to 8:00 PM, and the sale of alcohol should be banned from a certain hour as well.

Corona Commissioner Pedro Facon reportedly proposed gradations for extra rules in bars and restaurants: if the situation worsens (due to the Omicron variant), the complete closure of the sector should be considered.

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Expanding the teleworking obligation to the entire workweek instead of four days now could also be on the table in the situation worsens.

Cancelling all large events should be considered as well, even if they take place outdoors. Football matches could still take place, but without spectators.

Well-organised small indoor events (up to 200 people) could still continue, but only if sufficient ventilation can be guaranteed, face masks are worn and enough distance can be kept.

Shopping alone could become the rule again, with exceptions for children or elderly people who need to be accompanied. Limits on the maximum number of people in a store at the same time could also be introduced again.

The possibility to close non-essential shops and contact professions (such as hairdressers and beauticians) is reportedly also on the table again, but only if the situation worsens.

On public transport, the capacity should be halved to avoid excessively crowded buses, trains and metros; and non-EU citizens travelling to Belgium would have to undergo a mandatory coronavirus test. For EU citizens, such a test could become recommended.

Additionally, the French-speaking green party Ecolo called on the government to provide free coronavirus self-tests, something which experts like virologist Steven Van Gucht are strongly in favour of.

These recommendations were delivered to the competent ministers, who will decide which measures to take during the Consultative Committee tomorrow.

Over the past few days, several experts and politicians have already made clear that the aim is to avoid a complete lockdown, as has been the case in the Netherlands since Sunday.

The Consultative Committee will meet from 2:00 PM this afternoon and is expected to hold a press conference to announce its decisions afterwards.

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