Emergency bill extends Belgium’s power to battle pandemics
Tuesday, 02 February 2021
A new bill, introduced by Minister of Health Frank Vandenbroucke, extends the federal government’s powers to fight any future pandemics that could hit Belgium.
The text, which has been seen by De Standaard, is the framework to legally enforce the government’s health policy for the handling of the new coronavirus (Covid-19) and acts as a concrete bill to deal with future pandemics that affect Belgium.
The text covers a number of permanent decisions and measures, ranging from the imposition of export bans (for example of protective equipment) to strategic controlling of certain medicine sales.
The part of the law that stands out most, according to De Standaard, refers to the measures which can be imposed by the health minister if the government declares a “crisis”, defined as “an event that actually does or potentially can affect a large number of people, affects or may affect health, and potentially increases the significant factor of mortality or excess mortality”.
In this instance, the current minister could prohibit essential medicines or raw materials from leaving the country’s territory. This measure could go as far as to temporarily limit the use of medicines and control the stock of medicines at wholesalers, enforcing sales and use in accordance with government instructions.
This new bill would also give the government the power to “prohibit, regulate, and control” the import, production, possession, use, sale, or export of products and personal protective equipment.
Finally, as a possible reaction to the difficulty the government faced imposing telework during the second wave of the coronavirus, this bill allows the government to close companies “whose activity seems unnecessary or harmful”.
In such a crisis situation, the Minister of Health could also appoint “people or objects they consider necessary” to manufacture, produce, and (re)distribute stocks of certain products. If the situation requires it, the government also has the power to start manufacturing medicines itself, mainly to build up the strategic stock. For this purpose, it can also impose “compulsory licenses” on companies.