Measures announced by the mayor of Woluwe-Saint-Lambert in reaction to the announcement of a second coronavirus case in Belgium are disproportionate and grotesque, according to politicians close to the issue.
Yesterday saw the announcement of a second case of infection by the coronavirus or Covid-19 in Belgium. The patient reported to the university of Antwerp hospital (UZA) and was confirmed to be infected. Her symptoms are said to be moderate, and she is now in isolation.
In response, federal health minister Maggie De Block held an impromptu press conference with Flemish health minister Wouter Beke, head of the laboratory in Leuven Marc Van Ranst and the patient’s doctor at UZA, Dr Erika Vlieghe.
De Block said the country was now entering “phase two” of the disease, with one confirmed and identified patient, and more expected.
Also at the weekend, it was reported that one man infected in Luxembourg had passed through Charleroi airport on his return from Italy, while a Spanish woman from Pamplona had spent some time in Belgium before reporting as infected to hospital in Spain.
But the most strict reaction came from Woluwe-Saint-Lambert mayor Olivier Maingain, who announced his commune would be taking extreme measures to prevent the spread of the infection.
The police order, which requires only the approval of the mayor himself, bans access to all public buildings for 14 days by anyone who has recently been in a high-risk area. That includes schools, nurseries, rest homes, sports centres, libraries, cultural centres, places of entertainment, municipal administration buildings or any public service in the commune.
The measure was immediately described as “grotesque” by Vincent De Wolf, mayor of Etterbeek, whose commune forms part of the same police zone as Maingain’s.
“This order is not applicable, since it is addressed at persons who cannot be identified,” he said. And he called for an emergency meeting of the 19 Brussels mayors to review the situation.
“This order is going to create panic and anxiety among the population,” he went on. “The coronavirus is a matter of federal public health, and implementing measures at a municipal level is simply grotesque.”
Maggie De Block, meanwhile, responded to the Maingain order on leaving a meeting of senior government ministers called by acting prime minister Sophie Wilmès before the second infected person was even announced.
She described the order as “disproportionate” and said it “does not correspond to the recommendations of the World Health Organisation or the European Union.”
The reaction by the Woluwe mayor, she said, risks creating a sense of panic which could have an effect on other communes.
The official in charge of civil security and emergency plans in Brussels, Viviane Scholliers, pointed out that the Covid-19 situation was for the time being a responsibility of the federal public health ministry and no-one else.
“Good sense would dictate that we take the same measures at the same time on the same territory,” she said.
“I would think that at the very least that ought to be decided together with the other mayors and other authorities, because such measures have to be implemented. It remains to be seen how mayor Maingain and his police are going to carry out this order. I presume he has taken all the necessary precautions. Today, this is not the sort of measure it is advisable to take. As the evolution of the epidemic of coronavirus advances, one must adapt.”