'Serious things' to happen if Brussels' vaccination rate doesn't rise, warns expert

'Serious things' to happen if Brussels' vaccination rate doesn't rise, warns expert
Credit: Belga

The coronavirus situation in the Brussels-Capital Region is worrying, as "serious things" are going to happen there but the hospitals are already at their limit, says infectious disease expert Erika Vlieghe.

Even with the implementation of the mandatory Covid Safe Ticket (CST) for the hospitality industry in the pipeline, more is needed to increase Brussels' vaccination rate, according to Vlieghe.

"Many things really have to happen in Brussels, because some very serious things are going to happen there," she said on VRT's television programme 'De Zevende Dag' on Sunday.

"We have to take very pragmatic steps forward there. A lot of people can get sick and the hospitals are already at their limit and have to start spreading patients," Vlieghe said. "There is not that much time to think about that at length."

The cooperation agreement to allow the country regions to decide on the expansion of the Covid Safe Ticket in specific sectors, such as the hospitality industry, was approved last week.

The system is already in place to regulate access to events in Belgium, but Brussels has been asking to use it in more situations in people's daily lives, like bars and restaurants, hoping to give the region's vaccination coverage a boost.

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However, Marc Van Muylders of the Brussels hospitality industry explained last week that he fears that putting geographical limitations on the CST use in Belgium is just "moving the problem somewhere else."

"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," he told The Brussels Times.

In the meantime, the ‘L’Abîme’ collective, which organised the La Boum events in Brussels’ Bois de la Cambre, announced that it plans to hold parties every weekend if the region decides to extend the use of CST.

That way, they want to make sure people can obtain a CST "in a natural way instead of having to be vaccinated," by getting a recovery certificate after a Covid-19 infection, and protest against the remaining measures still in force.

Over the past weeks, several politicians, including the president of the Flemish right-wing N-VA party Bart De Wever, have also advocated lifting all the rules, like Denmark is doing now, specifically the face mask obligation.

Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon, of De Wever's N-VA party, on Sunday confirmed that he would put the issue on the table of the Consultative Committee on Friday. He does not necessarily want to lift the obligation everywhere, but there should at least be a "serious relaxation," he said.

According to Vlieghe, however, Belgium is not yet ready for that.

"Winter is coming, we are all going to go back to meeting indoors more. There is Brussels, but also other places, with insufficient vaccination," she said.

"Additionally, we need to monitor what the duration of the vaccine protection will be. It is reckless to throw everything overboard now," Vlieghe added. "Let us carefully continue on the current path. That will get us through the winter."

On Friday, Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo confirmed on VTM News that the Consultative Committee will be discussing the relaxation of the obligation to wear a face mask.

A general mask obligation is no longer necessary, but it is still justifiable in places where people stand close together and which are poorly ventilated, such as on public transport, he said.

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