No reopening of cultural sector until epidemic is under control

No reopening of cultural sector until epidemic is under control
Cinemas must remain closed for now. Credit: Belga

The cultural sector will remain closed until healthcare services are not overburdened by the coronavirus. However, the government will work on a step-by-step plan to give businesses perspective in the long term.

In light of the outcry from businesses and supporters of the cultural sector about the decision to close cultural venues (including cinemas, theatres, and concert halls), Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke met with a delegation of the sector on Tuesday.

Vandenbroucke stated that he will propose to the Consultative Committee to allow a minimum continuation of cultural activities and events with a seated audience indoors, "provided that the epidemic appears to be under control and no overburdening of care is expected."

During the consultation, which took place digitally and was attended by some 30 people representing different elements of the sector, Vandenbroucke explained that a step-by-step plan will be worked on by the government.

This is aimed at giving the sector a realistic perspective for a sector-wide reopening, based on four pillars, including a proportional use of the available capacity, the use of ventilation, face masks and Covid Safe Tickets (CST).

Flames of discontent

Vandenbroucke sympathised with the cultural sector for whom a new closure is a heavy blow, and recognised the efforts made to remain open in a safe way, for example by ventilating venues.

The new rules announced by the government last Wednesday prompted strong criticism from the already beleaguered sector who deemed it unfair that they must close whilst larger events such as Christmas markets were allowed to continue.

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On Sunday, thousands took to the streets of Brussels to protest against the closures; various organisations announced plans to lodge an appeal with the Council of State to suspend the Royal Decree.

Earlier on Tuesday, leader of the socialist PS party Paul Magnette argued that there was no objective reason behind the decision, adding that the government should take time to question its crisis management strategy, restore confidence, and work on general measures.

First concrete steps

In the meeting, Vandenbroucke gave reasons for the decision, citing the various uncertainties that Belgium faces including the possible impact of Omicron on the number of infections and how this would affect the healthcare system.

He proposed to the sector to meet again on Tuesday 4 January to discuss concrete steps. This would allow the Consultative Committee time to meet in the coming days to discuss the epidemiological situation and, should the situation permit, make a roadmap to reopening the sector.

There is no set date for the next Consultative Committee as of yet.

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