What’s on the table for the Consultative Committee today?

What’s on the table for the Consultative Committee today?
Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke during the consultative committee in November 2021. Credit: Belga

Belgium’s Consultative Committee will meet this morning to reassess the coronavirus situation and evaluate the measures currently in effect.

The meeting will start at 09:30 and will take place in hybrid form, with some ministers attending physically and others digitally, the cabinet of Prime Minister Alexander De Croo confirmed to The Brussels Times.

The meeting will be followed by a press conference to announce the latest changes to the measures, according to his cabinet. The timing has yet to be announced.

In a new report by the GEMS group advising the Government given to the ministers and seen by De Tijd, the experts are only recommending a few minor changes to counter the boom of Omicron infections.

For the GEMS experts, there is no need for a lockdown and the current rules for the cultural sector and the hospitality industry can also remain in place.

Additionally, they advise that schools can reopen as planned on Monday 10 January after the extended Christmas break, but stress the importance of quickly vaccinating children aged 5 to 11 years old and adhering to precautionary measures – ventilation, face masks, (class) bubbles, testing and quarantining.

They urge teleworking to be made mandatory for the entire workweek, instead of just four of the five days. Additionally, New Year’s office parties are completely out of the question.

Where working from home is not possible, it is recommended to operate in small “work bubbles” where the same groups of staff work together and do not mix with other employees.

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The GEMS also advised halving the number of passengers on public transport and stressed the importance of ensuring sufficient ventilation on buses, trams and trains.

Additionally, the most vulnerable groups of the population should be advised to wear the more protective FFP2 face masks instead of the regular cloth ones.

While the GEMS is not calling for the Consultative Committee to intervene in people’s domestic life by introducing contact bubbles, the experts are recommending that people voluntarily limit their contacts to two or three other households.

In a joint interview with De Standaard on Wednesday, virologists Marc Van Ranst and Steven Van Gucht – both GEMS experts – warned of two “unpleasant” months to come, but added that they expect the situation to improve later in the year.

In light of the more infectious Omicron variant, the gatherings for end-of-year festivities and the fact that many people are returning from skiing holidays just before the schools reopen, the experts expect “an enormous amount of virus circulation in the coming week and therefore even more infections.”

“It will be a very difficult period, but we will have to make do with the measures we have,” Van Ranst said. “We will have to grit our teeth a little longer. But in March, we predict improvement,” Van Gucht added.

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