End of Covid crisis management phase could be near, Vandenbroucke says
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End of Covid crisis management phase could be near, Vandenbroucke says

Closing times for bars may be lifted. Credit: Belga

Belgium could be nearing the end of the tunnel when it comes to coronavirus crisis management, Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said ahead of Friday’s Consultative Committee.

In two days, the government’s core cabinet will gather again to discuss the epidemiological situation and possible relaxations during what Vandenbroucke called an “extra important meeting” which could be a “first step back to normal life”.

“It will perhaps signify the final stage of this crisis management phase during which we had to impose difficult but important measures,” he told RTL info on Wednesday.

Around 67% of all people in Belgium have been fully vaccinated, meaning it is nearing the threshold of 70%. Vandenbroucke had previously promised that Belgium would reach “the kingdom of freedom” at this stage.

He now stressed that it is not time yet to relax all measures at once, as the epidemiological situation in Belgium continues to remain unstable, especially in Brussels, where the vaccination coverage rate is lower, and travellers returning from red zones are resulting in cases rising.

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However, Vandenbroucke said that the government could decide to end certain measures which no longer seem appropriate, for example, the closing time imposed on businesses in the catering industry or the number of people you can have in your home.

“These measures are less important today. I think that when you are in a café or restaurant, the fact that it is well ventilated is more important in the long term. Whether it’s at 11:00 PM, midnight or 2:00 AM. We want to focus on more structural measures,” he said.

Meanwhile, a recent report from the GEMS expert group, which advises the government on the coronavirus crisis, said that despite the high vaccination rollout in Belgium, certain measures including wearing facemasks and social distancing will still be needed during autumn and winter this year.

Expanding Covid Safe Ticket?

The further organisation of major events will also be a discussion point on Friday. Currently, Belgium’s Covid Safe Ticket (CST) can be applied to events of at least 1,500 people outdoors. From 1 September, the Covid Safe Ticket can also be used for indoor events.

“I believe that more freedom can be given to public events where currently there are social distancing measures, compulsory wearing of masks, provided that the Covid Safe Ticket is used,” said Vandenbroucke.

Within the government, there is a divide of opinions when it comes to expanding the CST system. On the one side, the Flemish socialist Vooruit party is calling for it to be used for weddings and other, smaller events.

On the other side of the argument, Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon, as well as the Liberals and the Greens, are against the concept.

“It is going too far for me,” Jambon said, referring to a system such as that in France, where a Covid Pass is now also required for weddings or in bars and restaurants.

Vandenbroucke emphasised that, in any case, getting as many people as possible vaccinated, especially in Antwerp and Brussels, remains a priority.

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