Any relaxing of coronavirus measures in March is still hugely dependent on Belgium's figures and will be linked to how people behave now, according to Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.
Going into 2021, De Croo spoke with De Zondag about how the year could play out regarding vaccinations, falling figures, and if there will be relaxation before 1 March.
"I hope so," he told the paper. "If the figures continue to fall, and we are falling below 800 infections per day, then something should be possible. So we all have that in our hands together. If you want to go back to the hairdresser, stick to the rules."
Non-medical contact professions such as hairdressers are currently the first likely to be reopened, but other groups can be added according to the PM. " The hospitality industry? We are investigating whether that is possible. What I absolutely want to avoid is a yo-yo effect."
Any form of complete relaxation is, for now, not on the agenda. "We're doing this to avoid a third wave. Because it will be even worse than the second. I would say even more: we won't be able to handle a third wave."
Asked why vaccinations have taken so long, De Croo pointed out that production capacity is dictating availability, and that this is not just a Belgian concern. "That's all we can do. Although it is possible that future vaccines will speed up the process. The vaccines we administer now do not stop the spread of the virus. Other vaccines might. Although I can't anticipate that."
"Whoever gets the vaccine can no longer get sick themselves, but can still transmit the virus. People need to be aware of that. That's why we can't solve all the rules right away. Even those who have been vaccinated must adhere to the measures. Unfortunately, free life is not quite back yet."
The State of Belgium - Vaccine, Figures & Testing
Belgium began a trial run administering the vaccine in the last week of 2020. The vaccines were delivered on time, could be administered “fairly quickly” without wasting any doses, and those who were vaccinated did not experience any noticeable side effects, but several hitches remain.
Belgium’s daily average new coronavirus infections continue to drop, according to the latest figures published by the Sciensano public health institute on Sunday.
Between 24 and 30 December, an average of 1,600.9 new people tested positive per day over the past week, which is a 31% decrease compared to the week before.
Experts, however, have voiced concern that a massive influx of returns from abroad in the coming week could have a detrimental effect on figures if not handled properly.
As a result, under the new rules in force since Friday, all residents returning from a stay of more than 48 hours in a red zone – effectively the whole of Europe – are obliged to fill in an online Passenger Location Form (PLF). They then receive a QR code allowing them to be tested at the airport.
Once that is done, they return home and go into quarantine for seven days, then take another test.
"What we have to do doesn't make me happy. On the other hand, I am driven by the ambition to make this country better," explained De Croo.
The Brussels Times