Brussels Expo site could be central coronavirus vaccination hub

Brussels Expo site could be central coronavirus vaccination hub
Illustration picture shows Brussels Expo ahead of the 95th edition of the European Motor Show Brussels in January 2017. © BELGA/HATIM KAGHAT

Brussels' sprawling Heysel expo site is an official candidate to become a strategic hub in Belgium's mass coronavirus vaccination campaign, Mayor Philippe Close said.

Brought to a standstill by the pandemic, the City of Brussels' bid to plug the complex into the country's vaccination campaign could see its 115,000 square-meters spring back to life as early as January.

Close, the mayor of Brussels 1000 and chairman of the Brussels Expo group, said that the site's strategic location near Brussels Airport and to the Brussels ring road made it an ideal option for both storage and effective vaccination.

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"The Heysel palaces can be used both for storing the vaccines and necessary material and for hosting a vast vaccination central, at least at a regional level," Close told Francophone daily L'Echo.

"We are used to hosting and managing flows of thousands of visitors and we have also equipped the spaces with a UV air filtration system which can guarantee a safe environment," he added.

In pre-pandemic times, the dozen or so event halls and interior arenas in the Heysel esplanade, including the massive Palais 12, are home to a flurry of national and international events, including major concerts, festivals and business shows and congresses.

Brussels Expo CEO Denis Delforge estimated that, by employing the site, authorities could vaccinate around 40,000 people each day, according to Bruzz.

Entire showrooms could also be used as storage rooms for the vaccines, some of which require freezing temperatures, including Pfizer/BioNTech's candidate, which needs to be kept at  -70ºC.

"There's no need in trying to reinvent the wheel, we are ready to go," Close said, noting that due to the fallout of the pandemic, the doors of the expo site would remain close until at least September 2021.

The country's freshly laid out vaccination strategy aims to vaccinate a total of 300,000 people from January with an initial batch of 600,000 of double-dose shots by Pfizer/BioNTech, which is still pending EU approval.

The Brussels Expo group is not the first in the events sector to try to surf the wave of the vaccination campaign to jump-start activities.

Earlier this week, a federation of music festivals said that they too were ready to put their logistics and infrastructure to the task in helping authorities organise massive vaccination drives.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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