Belgium called to restrict UK travel to keep out Delta variant
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Belgium called to restrict UK travel to keep out Delta variant

Credit: Belga

Belgium should look into stricter travel measures against the UK in an effort to halt the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, according to State Secretary for Asylum and Immigration Sammy Mahdi.

Research shows that the Delta variant of the coronavirus is more contagious, and as it’s spreading rapidly across the United Kingdom, Mahdi has asked for Belgium’s virologists and experts to analyse the risk the Delta variant poses on Belgium in connection to travel from the UK.

Mahdi said he is very concerned about the spread of the mutation, previously known as the Indian variant, and that Belgium should discuss new entry restrictions on arrivals from the country for the time being based on recommendations around variants of concern.

“I’m very concerned, but you can only turn that concern into a political decision when experts have reported that we should be concerned about the variant and that we should impose travel restrictions,” he told Radio 1. 

In Belgium, the Delta variant accounts for 3.9% of all infections, according to the most recent update from health institute Sciensano, but the prevalence of this strain is increasing.

Mahdi stressed that we are in a “very crucial period during which we are vaccinating a lot, and so it might be advisable to be a little stricter on an entry ban for a couple of weeks for the UK to avoid this turning into a bad situation.”

Belgium has already put a temporary ban on non-essential traffic from India, Brazil, and South Africa as they are considered high-risk countries where more infectious new coronavirus variants are circulating.

What are the current rules for arrivals from the UK?

As the UK is no longer part of the EU – and is still coloured red on the European travel map, you can only enter Belgium if you are a national of, or have your main residence in, a country of the EU or the Schengen zone. However, non-essential travel from the UK to Belgium is still strongly advised against, even for those who can.

Upon arrival, these people must quarantine and get tested on day 1 and day 7 of their quarantine, for which a text message with a testing code will be sent upon arrival. Quarantine and testing are mandatory, and those who do not follow the rules could risk a fine of €250.

What would change?

If entry restrictions are imposed, it could mean that for a certain period of time – Mahdi has suggested four weeks – only Belgians or people with their main residence in Belgium can enter from the UK. There is an exception for essential travel by transport personnel and diplomats.

They must undergo ten days mandatory quarantine with PCR testing on day 1 and day 7, and this quarantine can only be interrupted for essential reasons.

What will change after 1 July?

On 1 July, the European Digital Covid Certificate for travel will be implemented, which will facilitate travel within the EU by showing if someone has been fully vaccinated, recently tested negative, or recovered from the virus.

Travellers from third countries, including the UK, have to be fully vaccinated for over two weeks with a vaccine recognised by Europe and pass a PCR test on the day of arrival. If the test is negative, this person does not have to go into quarantine.

If entry restrictions are imposed on the UK, only people with a Belgian nationality or the main residence in Belgium can enter from the UK, even after July 1, under the “travel brake” mechanism, which allows countries to restrict entry from a high-risk area where more infectious coronavirus variants are circulating,

People with Belgian nationality or the main residence in Belgium will still be required to quarantine for ten days, with a PCR test on days 1 and 7, regardless of whether they have been fully vaccinated or if they are entering with a valid negative test result.

“Whether these entry restrictions are necessary, depends on the report from the experts,” Mahdi explained, “but I think it is important that we can stop certain variants because there is light at the end of the tunnel, but this could go out if we are not careful.”

According to Mahdi’s spokesperson, the implementation of entry requirements is expected to be discussed during Friday’s Consultative Committee.