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Belgium in Brief: Selling A Pandemic?

While most people have grown used to seeing Marc Van Ranst pretty much everywhere they look nowadays, the virologist has recently been making headlines for a lecture he gave in 2019.

For some time now, edited compilations of parts of the filmed lecture have sparked accusations that Van Ranst is manipulating the public, as the videos make it seem like he is using the current pandemic for personal gain.

In his speech, however, Van Ranst explained how he managed crisis communication during the outbreak of the swine flu in 2009, as the country’s flu commissioner.

In front of an audience of experts, he explained how he made sure he was the reference point for various media during that period, using the slogan “one voice, one message.”

“You have to be omnipresent, the first day or days,” Van Ranst said. “In order to attract the attention of the media, you make an agreement with them: you will tell them everything, and if they call you, you pick up the phone.”

Contrary to what Van Ranst is accused of, however, his aim was to have calm communication with clear explanations, in order not to overly worry the population, he later explained.

What do you think?
Let @johnstonjules know on Twitter (or @maithechini, since she wrote it today).

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. Vaccinating 70% of Belgium’s population is ‘not enough’, experts warn

Reaching the target set by Belgium’s federal government to vaccinate at least 70% of the population will not be enough to get the coronavirus under control, according to several experts.

As more infectious virus variants have emerged and the vaccines do not have a 100% efficacy rate, a higher vaccination rate than initially calculated will be required to reach herd immunity – with many advocating for 80% or even 90%. Read More.

2. ‘How to sell an epidemic’: a Marc Van Ranst conspiracy theory, explained

A much-discussed video of a lecture given by prominent Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst, in which he details his experiences as the country’s flu commissioner in 2009, has found itself at the heart of a conspiracy theory.

Excerpts of the video shared online – making it seem as if Van Ranst is explaining how to use a pandemic for personal gain – have sparked accusations that he is supposedly manipulating the public. Read more.

3. Flanders starts vaccinating people with disabilities from today

The first residents and staff members of a facility for people with a disability in Flanders are being vaccinated against the coronavirus today. Read More.

4. Brussels Airport is first European one to have Boeing 737 MAX take off again

Almost two years after the deadly crashes that killed 346 people, a Boeing 737 MAX departed with passengers from the Brussels Airport this morning, making it the first airport in Europe to see the plane off again.

The aircraft was previously banned in Belgium and many other countries following the fatal accidents that were the result of a failing safety system that pushed the nose of the aircraft down. Read More.

5. Belgium’s Princess Delphine attends first official royal event since recognition

On Wednesday, Belgium’s Princes Delphine and her husband were present at a traditional ceremony for the deceased members of the royal family in the royal crypt of the Notre-Dame church in Laeken.

“Princess Delphine was invited, like her siblings, and responded positively,” Francis Sobry, a spokesperson for the palace, said. Read More.

6. Large crowds expected at Belgian coast for second weekend in a row

Large crowds are expected at the coast for the second weekend in a row, due to the warm weather predicted.

The coastal towns were busy on Valentine’s weekend. For example, most hotels in Ostend were fully booked, according to the regional Krant van West-Vlaanderen (West Flanders Newspaper). Besides Valentine’s Day, the end of the sales period and the start of the Carnaval holiday were factors as well, according to the regional. Read More.

7. Belgium’s post offices closed on Friday

All post offices will be exceptionally closed this Friday 19 February all day long, Belgian postal service Bpost has announced.

So-called “post points” and parcel points will remain open according to their specific opening hours, however. Read more.

Jules Johnston & Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times