Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke is very disappointed with the compromise reached by the Consultative Committee on the new coronavirus measures, he said at the press conference on Friday.
While the number of new coronavirus infections is gradually reaching a plateau, there is still “one engine running,” Vandenbroucke said, referring to infections among children.
“This is a group that has not been vaccinated and where the fire is still burning,” he said. “That is why the challenge today was to put out the fire quickly enough where it is still burning, and to make sure that the pain of the healthcare sector does not last too long.”
The Committee decided that for pupils in kindergartens and primary schools, the Christmas holidays will start one week early on Saturday 18 December. In secondary schools, no more than 50% of classes can take place in the classroom until the exam period starts.
In practice, however, this means that young unvaccinated children will still be going to school for another two weeks, despite the rapid rise in infections among them.
From that perspective, the compromise reached is disappointing, said Vandenbroucke. “This could have been stronger, but we will implement the measures accurately and punctually.”
With the extension of compulsory face masks to all children from the age of 6 and the obligation to install a CO2 meter in every classroom, with accompanying ventilation measures, there are indeed steps forward. “We have come this far now, but it should have been done sooner,” said Vandenbroucke.
From the perspective of Flemish Education Minister Ben Weyts, this compromise is not great either, but for different reasons.
“You cannot expect an Education Minister to be jubilant today. The introduction of compulsory face masks for children from the age of 6 is hard for me,” he told the Belga News Agency. “I would also have preferred that schools at least had the opportunity to teach in the last week before Christmas if they so wish.”
“But these are apparently the sacrifices we have to make to keep the schools open. If it had been up to some, all our schools would have been closed from Monday,” Weyts said. “That will not happen now.”
On Friday evening, the education sector is also meeting to discuss a few more measures, including possible arrangements for childcare during the extra week of the Christmas holidays.