It is certainly possible to suspend some freedoms from those who do not want to get vaccinated, but they will always retain the right to medical care, according to Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke.
This week's announcement that all Belgian hospitals have to reserve 25% of their intensive care beds for (often non-vaccinated) Covid-19 patients angered healthcare staff, as it will lead to delayed care for vaccinated patients.
As a result, the healthcare sector is pleading for a general vaccination obligation for the population, but Vandenbroucke repeated that it is not tenable on VRT's television programme 'Terzake'.
"We are going for an obligation for people who work in healthcare, but the general obligation is a debate that does not help us," he said. "What do we do with people who do not want it? Throw them in jail or vaccinate them under sedation?"
Doctors are stressing that care provided in hospitals' intensive care units is for severe conditions, even if the surgeries are planned. "These are not luxury problems, but serious operations that you can postpone for a few days, but not indefinitely," intensivist Jasperina Dubois from the Jessa Hospital in Hasselt told VRT.
Additionally, the psychological impact on those whose surgery is postponed, "sometimes even several times," is great, she says.
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Intensive care units are still catching up on operations delayed by the previous three Covid waves, Dubois stressed. "Additionally, society is open again. That means a greater influx of unplanned admissions due to traffic accidents and work accidents."
To prevent too much care from being delayed, especially in combination with a growing number of unplanned patients, a general vaccination obligation is the only way, the sector stressed.
But for Vandenbroucke, the best way to convince people to get vaccinated is with the Covid Safe Ticket (CST), which can soon be used in a wider context. The CST proves that you are fully vaccinated, have recently tested negative or recovered from an infection in the past six months.
"I think you can certainly deny people who do not get vaccinated a number of freedoms," Vandenbroucke said. "Then they have to get tested every day if they want to go to a bar, and that will soon cost money. This is something that needs to be done urgently in Brussels," he stressed. "Especially in bars."
This stance directly contradicts statements made by Georges-Louis Bouchez, president of the Francophone liberal MR party, who called the CST "false freedom" on VRT on Wednesday.
De minister van Volksgezondheid zou opnieuw de fundamentele principes van een democratie moeten leren. Dergelijke uitspraken zijn beangstigend en gaan in tegen onze waarden. De vaccinatiegraad moet omhoog, in plaats van om het even wat te vertellen. #MRvoorzitter #trotseliberaal pic.twitter.com/N6gJ2PF9CN— Georges-L BOUCHEZ (@GLBouchez) September 9, 2021
"You cannot say that people are free in their choice to be vaccinated or not, but still make their life difficult if they make the 'wrong' choice," Bouchez said. "If you really give people the freedom to get vaccinated or not, then you have to accept that some people are not going to do it."
Although Vandenbroucke believes that denying non-vaccinated people some of their freedoms should be possible, he also stressed that this does not mean that they will lose their right to healthcare in Belgium.
"If a young man races down the motorway at 160 km/h and has a serious accident, we will first try to save his life. After that we will take away his driving licence," he said.
"Saving the life of someone who has made a mistake is something we do. And it is something we must continue to do," Vandenbroucke said. "We also save the lives of people who have made serious mistakes."