Belgium in Brief: The art of the U-turn

Belgium in Brief: The art of the U-turn

Wow, how about that for a snappy turnaround? The dust had barely settled after new measures announced on 22 December sparked a firestorm of criticism from the cultural sector; yesterday, these measures were reversed allowing cinemas, theatres and the like to reopen. Let it not be said that the Belgian political system is slow to react.

Whilst Christmas normally signals a moment of family-oriented calm with daily struggles laid to rest, businesses in the sector and the general public were up in arms about restrictions that closed cultural centres. Crowds gathered on Boxing Day to express their frustration and politicians added their voice to the din.

Unusually for Covid-related debate, the outcry over these latest restrictions echoed in all corners of public and political discourse. This was a stark contrast to previous protests that had turned violent in Brussels and have been associated with anti-vaxxers and right-wing extremism.

And so, only one week after introducing the wildly unpopular measures, the authorities heard the angry cries and performed a U-turn: cultural centres can reopen (in accordance with social distancing measures, of course).

The political fallout of this about-turn will now play out – critics have branded it an "absolute loss of face" and for many, this latest episode will be one less reason to put faith in the decision-making process so pertinent in times of the pandemic. On the other hand, the decision to go back on unfair policies is surely less of a political black-eye than blundering on blindly whilst many venues openly defied the measures.

The moral of the story? Listen to the experts could be one – if Covid measures lack even a firm scientific basis they will be hard to justify to an apathetic population. We might also be thankful for a political system that is not so set in its ways that it can't hear the calls to reason.

Now more than ever, open debate and transparent communication are essential to public trust. This should be central to Belgium's decisions as it puts the pandemic behind it in the new year.

Was this a victory for reason or a blow to public trust? Let @OrlandoWhitehe6 know.

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