As Brussels is expected to start requiring the Covid Safe Ticket in bars, restaurants and other hospitality businesses soon, the Capital-Region's hospitality sector is tired of being singled out again.
If the use of the Covid Safe Ticket (CST) is expanded, the measures should not target one specific industry or the Brussels region, but be implemented across sectors and at a federal level, says Marc Van Muylders of Horeca Brussels.
"Such a measure should not have any geographical limitation in Belgium, because municipalities like Vilvoorde are facing the same problems as Brussels," he told The Brussels Times. "The rules for the hospitality industry should be the same throughout the country."
From 1 October, people will likely have to present their CST to enter a restaurant or bar in Brussels, to prove that they are fully vaccinated, have recently tested negative or recovered from an infection in the past six months.
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The system is already in place to regulate access to events in Belgium, but Brussels has been asking to use it at more locations in the hope that more residents would get vaccinated - which is what happened in France.
However, the problem does not stop at the borders of the Brussels-Capital Region, Van Muylders stressed.
"People who do not want to be vaccinated or tested can travel ten minutes further for a drink or a meal, then they will be just outside of Brussels, in the Flemish municipalities of Dilbeek, Vilvoorde or Waterloo."
As Flanders does not want to extend the use of the CST beyond events, hospitality clients will not have to show anything at all.
"Since they are unvaccinated and un-tested they might very well be infected. If they then indeed go to Dilbeek, Vilvoorde or Waterloo, chances are that they will infect people there."
"That is not solving anything, that is just moving the problem somewhere else," Van Muylders stressed. "We are a long way from home with all these measures."
The easy way out
According to Horeca Brussels, if the use of the CST is expanded it should also be required in cinemas, shopping centres, supermarkets and any other place where many people gather, like the Rue Neuve in Brussels, which is often filled with people.
"That way, it becomes a general rule," Van Muylders said. "If the CST is introduced in all these situations, it will of course have an important effect," he said.
The goal of requiring the CST in daily city affairs is to give people an extra boost to get vaccinated by making it difficult for them to gain access to places where many people gather to reduce the further spread of the virus.
"But if it remains limited to one specific sector in one specific region, you are not boosting anything, you are just moving the problem somewhere else."
In the end, there is only one solution for Van Muylders: vaccination. "That is very difficult in Brussels but surely we as a sector cannot suffer from the fact that certain people do not want to be vaccinated?"
Not only is the vaccination rate in Brussels as a whole (63% of adult residents are fully vaccinated) a lot lower than in the rest of the country, the coverage also varies greatly between municipalities, ranging from 78% in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre to just 51% in Molenbeek.
"The difference between some municipalities is huge. Isn't it unfair then to put them all in the same category? These are all questions that need to be asked," Van Muylders said, adding that these are not decisions that can be made overnight.
"Let us take our time. We are talking about employment here, about the viability of companies," he said. "It is not possible that people are taking this so lightly."
Targeting the hospitality industry is just "the easy way out," Van Muylders said, adding that the same was done last year with bars and restaurants staying closed while shops were reopened.
"Let me be clear: we absolutely want to beat Covid-19, but we cannot be the only sector to pay the price," he said.
'Bar owners are not police officers'
Horeca Brussels also has a number of questions about how the checks on clients' CST will happen, and who will carry them out, as it seems like Brussels Minister-President Rudi Vervoort is not planning on police checks.
"Is the restaurant owner also responsible if a customer does not want to show their Covid pass? What is the responsibility of the operator here?" Van Muylders said, adding that it is not up to the sector to make sure their clients are vaccinated or tested.
"It is not the role of the hospitality industry to do this. We are not police officers," he said. "You don't ask a bar owner to make sure that people don't drive too fast in the street, do you?"
Making bar and restaurant owners responsible for the checks is also unfair to their business, Van Muylders stressed.
"Suppose that I am very strict about it and I check everyone, but on the other side of the street, they do not check anyone," he said. "I will not have a single customer, and the other side will be full."
For establishments close to the Brussels border, it will be even worse, as it is feared that clients will just cross into Flanders or Wallonia instead, where there is not even a need for checks.
Van Muylders compared the CST to the implementation of the smoking ban several years ago. "That was done progressively," he said. "We started with restaurants and only much later with pubs, for the obvious reason that it is very difficult to impose certain things on your customers."
"We are in the business of hospitality after all, it is a welcoming environment. After the year and a half we have had, we are already happy to have customers."