Now that Belgium’s different governments have approved the agreement to expand the use of the Covid Safe Tickets in different regions, Flanders is also considering its use in certain cities and municipalities.
The agreement will allow the Regions to extend the requirement for the Covid Safe Ticket (CST) to more situations than just events and came about primarily to deal with the low vaccination rate in the Brussels-Capital Region.
“If the differences between the municipalities become more pronounced, it could be an interesting path to give the municipalities more autonomy,” said Katrien Schryvers, Flemish MP for the Christian democrat CD&V party.
From 1 October, the Regions can decide to require the CST to enter bars and restaurants, sports clubs or cultural spaces, for example. Several municipalities are asking to have the power to enforce stricter measures locally, according to the Association of Flemish Cities and Municipalities (VVSG).
“First and foremost, it is important to say that Flanders has a very high vaccination rate, which makes the need less great here than in Brussels, for example,” Schryvers said.
“If the infection rates go up again and big differences appear between municipalities, it could be an interesting path to give them the autonomy to take measures,” she added. “The vaccination rate can also play a role in this. We still see a number of municipalities with a coverage below 70%.”
The socialist Vooruit party also supports Schryvers’ proposal, said Flemish MP Hannes Anaf.
“The situation in Flanders is not the same everywhere and with the introduction of the Covid Safe Ticket in Brussels, municipalities in the periphery risk becoming victims of non-vaccinated people who will endanger themselves and others,” he said.
Several municipalities on the Brussels border already stated that if the Capital-Region will start requiring the CST they want to do it too, to make sure unvaccinated and un-tested people do not just cross into Flanders for a meal or a drink.
Earlier this week, Vilvoorde mayor Hans Bonte asked for the opportunity “to the demand from the hospitality and fitness businesses to apply the Covid Safe Ticket system.”
“If [the authorities] can make extra rules for Brussels, I am asking to be allowed to apply them too,” he said, adding that the municipality’s vaccination rate is similar to that of Brussels.
According to Vooruit MP Anaf, the request illustrates the fact that a one-size-fits-all policy is not enough in these cases. “Now that the federal government has made regional differences in coronavirus policy possible, we must make the most of them.”
The Flemish Patients Platform, too, is requesting the possibility to ask visitors of hospitals or residential care centres for a CST before allowing them inside, where they will likely be in contact with high-risk patients.
The Flemish liberal Open Vld party, however, is less keen on expanding the use of the CST as it assumed that the vaccination level across Flanders is sufficient to avoid it.
“Now, we will have to wait and see what the figures do,” said group leader Willem-Frederik Schiltz. “If it turns out that intervention is still required, I think that the municipalities can be a good ally.”
Flemish Interior Minister Bart Somers, who is also a member of the Open Vld party, stated that while he understands that the CST is being considered in Brussels because of the lower vaccination rate, the tool is unnecessary in Flanders.
“We have done a lot in Flanders for the vaccination campaign and we have an incredibly high vaccination rate. We can be proud of that,” he told the Belga news agency.
“As our strategy has worked, we should now give people the opportunity to live as normal a life as possible. We do not need a ‘(health) pass society’ in Flanders,” said Somers, adding that the entire Flemish government is on the same page.
The cabinet of Flemish Welfare Minister Wouter Beke, however, stated that “advice will be sought from the taskforce for care,” adding that the voluntary use of the CST for the healthcare sector could be “interesting.”
“Flanders is doing very well in terms of vaccination coverage, so compulsory use is less necessary.”