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    Belgium in Brief: Watching The Sky – Or The Runway

    Credit: Belga/Brussels Airlines

    The news of the week – and likely the coming weeks – is travel. Who’s doing it? How are they doing it? Actually, can they do it?

    This last question is becoming the main sticking point as Belgium begins to look beyond its borders for the warmer months. According to officials, Belgians are not afraid to fly this summer, with Brussels Airlines seeing bookings exceed expectations.

    “There is a clear desire to travel, and get out of the country. We can see that Belgians definitely want to fly,” Kim Daenen, spokesperson for Brussels Airlines told The Brussels Times.

    The desire to travel, while a large part of the debate, is far from the only concern. News over the past few days has shown an airline industry on unstable ground, with Brussels Airlines, in particular, making headlines as it tries to stabilise. 

    With that in mind, today we’re recapping the latest travel news, Belgium’s fight back against a damning report on its coronavirus response, and we’re back to having the numbers again.

    With so much information, and so little time to catch up before it potentially changes again, here are some of the top stories from around the country to get you up to speed.

    Belgium in Brief is a free daily roundup of the top stories to get you through your lunch break conversations. To receive it straight to your inbox every day, sign up below:

    1. Belgium gets defensive over Economist’s ‘worst Covid response’ claim

    Prime minister Sophie Wilmès (MR) has come to Belgium’s defence after a claim by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) that the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic was bottom of the class. 

    “It is true that Belgium has often been singled out for the mortality figures,” she told the parliament. “However, the way of counting deaths is fundamental, when we know that not all countries count deaths in the same way.” Read More.

    “This is what happens when economists get involved in things they don’t understand well,” Van Gucht, a virologist with federal public health institute Sciensano. Not everyone in a similar position agrees with him though. More on that here.

    2. The post-pandemic society: What is likely to change for good and what is unlikely to change?

    1968 was a momentous year. It was a year of political, sexual and technological revolution that is still remembered for the Prague Spring, student protests in Paris, the escalating Vietnam War and preparations for astronauts to venture to the far side of the moon.

    But 1968 was also marked by a disaster that has largely been forgotten: an influenza pandemic that killed up to four million people around the world over the following two years.

    Hospitals were overwhelmed. The dead went unburied. Factories and essential services were disrupted as workers fell ill. Yet once it passed, this lethal viral epidemic had no enduring impact on European societies.

    Fast forward to 2020. The coronavirus pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to our lives. Many predict that Europeans’ way of life will be changed forever. Read more.

    3. Coronavirus: 128 new infections, trends continue to decline

    128 additional people have tested positive for the new coronavirus (Covid-19) in Belgium, according to figures by the Federal Public Health Service on Friday.

    This brings the total number of cases in Belgium, since the beginning of the pandemic, to 60,476. The total reflects all people in Belgium who have been infected, and includes confirmed active cases as well as patients who have since recovered, or died from the consequences of the virus.

    The trend of new infections is still decreasing, by about 2% to 5% per day over the last 7 days. Read more.

    4. Lufthansa could let Brussels Airlines go bankrupt: reports

    The Lufthansa group could let its subsidiary Brussels Airlines go bankrupt if no rescue agreement is reached with the Belgian government, La Libre reports.

    Citing several inside sources, the Francophone newspaper said that the German company is no longer excluding the option of dropping Brussels Airlines and letting it file for bankruptcy.

    Board members of Brussels Airlines and the Lufthansa group are set to meet on Monday, the paper added. Read More.

    5. On top of that, Brussels Airlines is unsure it can guarantee return flights

    Brussels Airlines is currently investigating if it will be able to guarantee return flights for customers, following an announcement that several airlines of the Lufthansa Group are offering such a guarantee to their customers

    While Lufthansa, SWISS and Austrian Airlines are offering not only flexible rebooking options but also a basic return flight guarantee on all European routes, Brussels Airlines has confirmed it is currently unable to take part in the initiative.

    “We are looking into whether we can also offer [the return flight guarantee] to our customers. We are investigating the options,” Kim Daenen, a Brussels Airlines spokesperson, told The Brussels Times. Read more.

    6. Some good news to take you into the weekend

    A regular weekly feature to be sure you get a dose of cheer amid the doom and gloom. This week: the wildlife edition tackles fox rescue, reptile protection and a scientific breakthrough that could replace the role of bees. Read more.

    7. EU vaccines strategy steps up actions by member states

    The European Commission presented on Wednesday a common European strategy to buy vaccines against the coronavirus on behalf of all member states through advance purchase agreements with producers.

    Four member states did not wait for the Commission to act and have already started the process.

    Vaccine development is a complex and lengthy process. With the strategy, the Commission intends to support efforts to accelerate the development and availability of vaccines in a timeframe between 12 and 18 months, if not earlier.  Read More.

    Jules Johnston
    The Brussels Times