Belgium’s council of ministers will hold an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the worsening epidemiological situation, and reintroducing face masks indoors in Flanders is expected to be on the table.
Based on scientific advice from the Coronavirus Commission and the GEMS expert group, ministers will discuss a broader federal plan, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo’s spokesperson confirmed on Sunday, however closing down any sectors will not be considered.
De Croo said he wants to focus on “vigilance and caution,” adding that the current increase in the number of coronavirus infections and hospitalisations show that a phasing out of the federal phase is not yet possible, according to reports from VRT News.
More than 100 people are being hospitalised per day in Belgium as a result of the coronavirus, while more than 4,000 new coronavirus infections were identified on average every day, according to the latest Sciensano Covid-19 figures.
De Croo said the rise in figures highlighted the need for “more vigilance in the coming weeks and months. Especially now that people are having more contacts again, the weather is deteriorating and people are spending more time indoors.”
At the start of this month, the rules regarding face masks were relaxed across the whole of Belgium, and as a result, they were only mandatory in places including public transport, healthcare facilities, and events with more than 500 people indoors and 750 people outdoors, without Covid Safe Ticket (CST).
However, only Flanders followed these rules, while Wallonia and the Brussels-Capital Region did not apply these relaxations.
Virologist Steven Van Gucht had previously warned that wearing face masks indoors was a measure that was “written off too early,” saying this was the opinion of all virologists at the time, yet politicians went ahead with the abolition in Flanders.
“It was not wise, the timing was not right. We knew that October and November were going to be difficult and that we could actually use that face mask now because it allows you to do what you want to do: you don’t have to stay at home, but if you wear that in certain places, you can reduce the risks, even if you are vaccinated,” he told VTM Nieuws.
Meanwhile, federal health minister Frank Vandenbroucke has called for a “widespread culture of wearing face masks” to better protect the weakest not only against the coronavirus but also against other diseases such as flu.
He added that more practical and implementable measures, such as allowing employers to check Covid Safe Tickets in the workplace, should also be discussed.
This would allow them to check whether employees have been fully vaccinated, recently tested negative or recovered from the virus in the past half-year.
However, he said there is almost no political base to implement this, as it concerns a broader debate about “whether an employer can control his employees or not.”