The GEMS expert group, which advises the government, delivered a new report to the authorities with recommendations for additional measures to be taken by the Consultative Committee on Friday.
The advice, which was seen by several Belgian newspapers, will be discussed by the core cabinet – consisting of the Prime Minister and deputy prime ministers – on Thursday evening before being on the table of the Committee on Friday morning.
“The degree of occupancy in the hospitals’ intensive care units – with 659 beds taken by Covid patients – is worse than the worst-case scenario that the experts presented last week,” said Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, while announcing that the meeting would be brought forward.
In the report, the experts suggested a “cooling-off period” with a number of strict measures of at least three to four weeks (meaning, until just before Christmas). These measures are being recommended:
- In the hospitality industry, groups of a maximum of four people should be seated per table, unless it concerns a bigger household. Restaurants and bars would have to close their doors at midnight.
- Indoor events where there is a lot of movement (such as parties, nightclubs or concerts where the audience is not seated) would be banned. Outdoor events would be allowed, but only until midnight.
- Private parties should be cancelled, although an exception could be made for weddings and funerals.
- Shopping will have to be done alone again, to avoid crowds in shopping centres.
- The rules for vaccinated people who have had a high-risk contact should also be tightened: instead of being tested on day 1 and 7 after the contact, they would only be tested on day 5. However, pending the result, their Covid Safe Ticket (CST) would be suspended.
- Sports activities should be allowed to continue, but there is a strong recommendation to do maximum outdoor sports. Additionally, an audience would not be allowed.
- In schools, a stricter testing policy should be implemented, and classes should be closed from three confirmed cases (instead of four now). All activities and trips outside the school should be cancelled.
While the experts also pointed out that private life is a major driver of the epidemic, they are sticking to a recommendation to limit social contacts as much as possible, even if they have been vaccinated.
For now, these proposed rules are only recommendations, as it is ultimately up to the Consultative Committee tomorrow to decide on new measures.
Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke already stated that “strong measures” would be needed “across all sectors” which will take effect immediately.
“We will have to limit the riskiest activities the most, or even stop them,” he added. “We should not point fingers at each other. Have we not yet understood that we are all in the same boat?”
The Committee meeting will be held digitally from 8:00 AM on Friday, and will be followed by a press conference to announce the latest changes, a spokesperson for De Croo told The Brussels Times.