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    Lockdown: what is a mass event?

    © Belga
    Remembering history: Belgium's success at the 1986 World celebrated by the crowds in the Grand Place, on their return to Brussels.
    © Belga

    With the news that all mass events in Belgium are banned until 31 August, a question has been raised which currently has no clear answer – what constitutes a mass event?

    Speaking on Wednesday, Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès said that there is as of yet no precise definition. What is available, however, is the view of three major resources of what it could mean in practice.

    To the WHO:

    “High profile international sporting events such as the Olympics or World Cups as well as international religious events such as the Hajj count as mass gatherings. However, lower-profile conferences and events can also meet WHO’s definition of a mass gathering.”

    “An event counts as a “mass gatherings” if the number of people it brings together is so large that it has the potential to strain the planning and response resources of the health system in the community where it takes place,” according to the WHO definition.

    This means, the description adds, that “if the event takes place over several days in a small island state where the capacity of the health system is quite limited, then even an event with just a few thousand participants could place a big strain on the health system and then be considered a “mass gathering” event.”

    On the other hand, an event in “a big city in a country with a large, well-resourced health system and lasts just a few hours, the event may not constitute a “mass gathering” event.”

    To the CDC:

    “Examples of large events and mass gatherings include conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies. These events can be planned not only by organisations and communities but also by individuals.”

    To the Belgian government(s):

    Wilmès was reluctant to put a number on how many people constitute a mass gathering, referring to the beginning of the crisis, when the government forbade events with 1,000 people, and organisations announced they would only allow 999. “We will try to have a more precise definition of what is and isn’t allowed in the future, but that will also depend on the evolution of the virus,” she added.

    Federal Interior Minister Pieter De Crem defined mass gatherings as “events where, besides fellow countrymen, a lot of people from abroad are also present, who often come from countries where the virus is also present,” on VTM News on Wednesday.

    As it stands, the major casualty of this news is Belgium’s summer festivals, which have been cancelled across the board. Major events from Tomorrowland to Brussels Summer Festival are postponed until 2021, with announcements going out today to ticketholders on what to do next.

    As for smaller-but-still-large gatherings, including weddings, funerals and other events, the precise definition remains unknown, likely only to be clarified after subsequent meetings.

    Jules Johnston & Maïthé Chini
    The Brussels Times