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    Belgium in Brief: Banning Zwarte Piet?

    Credit: Belga

    Despite being squarely in the middle of the summer slowdown in Belgium, there’s a lot going on.

    It feels like coronavirus is all we have spoken about for most of 2020, while the past week we have faced rising temperatures that seem to just keep rising.

    What came as a surprise, however, was Zwarte Piet making headlines in the summer months.

    The controversial tradition – and the almost as traditional debate on the tradition – comes to light towards the end of the year. As the story goes, Sinterklaas has a helper – Zwarte Piet (which translates as Black Pete). Adults and children dress up as him, donning blackface and black curly wigs, painting large red lips, and often large golden earrings.

    For years now, the Netherlands, Belgium, the world and sometimes Kim Kardashian have discussed the topic, but the changes made remain relatively small, with the most notable being the introduction of the alternative for Zwarte Piet, ‘Roetpiet’ (Soot Pete, whose face is only streaked with soot), without the blackface features.

    In an unexpected move, Facebook entered the discussion this week, announcing that photos and videos of someone dressed up as Zwarte Piet are now forbidden on social media platforms Facebook and Instagram, the company reported on Tuesday.

    After a nine-month process, Facebook is adapting its policy on discriminatory stereotypes worldwide, American company executives explained during a press briefing on Tuesday. Soot Pete is still allowed.

    Now after that brief break, let’s get back to coronavirus and the heatwave.

    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. Face mask now obligatory in all of Brussels

    The wearing of a face mask in public is now legally compulsory in all of the Brussels-Capital regions, after the number of confirmed infections over the past seven days passed the threshold of 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

    A mask must now be worn covering mouth and nose in any public place, or a private place accessible to the public such as a shop, by anyone over the age of 12 in the entire territory of the Brussels-Capital Region. Read More.

    2. Is this Belgium’s longest heatwave? 6 questions answered

    As Belgium is currently experiencing its seventh consecutive day of heatwave and temperatures are expected to stay up for a few more days, here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about Belgium’s heatwaves past and present. Read more.

    3. Belgium passes average of 600 new coronavirus cases per day

    An average of 604 people per day tested positive for the new coronavirus (Covid-19) in Belgium during the past week, according to the latest figures by Sciensano on Wednesday.

    The trend of new infections per day has risen by 12% over the 7-day period from 2 to 8 August. The number of new cases is still rising, but the increase is smaller than it was yesterday.

    The total number of confirmed cases in Belgium, since the beginning of the pandemic, is 75,008. 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. Read More.

    4. In Photos: Leopold III’s Bugatti goes up for auction

    A vintage Bugatti once owned by Belgium’s King Leopold III is expected to fetch millions when it goes to auction in September.

    As part of a special sale by the Gooding & Company auction house, which specialises in car auctions, a 1934 Bugatti Type 59 Sports owned by the Belgian King Leopold III, was put up for sale. Read more.

    5. Belgium will pump €50 million into doubling Covid-19 testing capacity

    Belgium will invest €50 million to boost its capacity to test people for the new coronavirus during the upcoming flu season, a federal minister announced.

    The cabinet of Federal Minister Philippe De Backer, tasked with managing Belgium’s testing and face mask strategies, said that a nationwide testing platform was being set up to massively test in the fall.

    The platform would seek to progressively scale up the testing capacity of clinical labs across Belgium, going from between 15,000-20,000 daily tests to between 40,000 and up to 55,000. Read more.

    6. Coronavirus misinformation responsible for thousands of deaths, study says

    Misinformation about the new coronavirus (Covid-19) has caused thousands of deaths, according to a study published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

    For this study, a team of international scientists from Australia, Japan and Thailand, among others, analysed data compiled between December 2019 and April 2020. Read more.

    7. Antwerp mosques file complaint against far-right Vlaams Belang for inciting hatred

    Two mosques in Antwerp are filing a complaint against the far-right Vlaams Belang political party and its chairman Tom Van Grieken for spreading images on social media which they feel incite hatred and discrimination.

    The Al Aqsa Mosque and the adjacent Cultural Centre Mosque Omar in the northern district of Antwerp are filing a complaint, after Vlaams Belang and Van Grieken circulated images of Muslims on the day of the Feast of Sacrifice. Read more.

    Jules Johnston
    The Brussels Times