The new leader of Belgium’s hard-left PTB group of lawmakers Sofie Merckx rejected moves towards introducing a France-style Covid vaccination obligation on the grounds that the “ultimate sanction of prison is the wrong answer.”
“Are we going to imprison those who won’t take the vaccine, are we going to ‘screw’ with them as French President Emmanuel Macron has said,” the member of parliament said to an interviewer on national broadcaster RTBF following parliament debate.
As in the Netherlands, thousands of demonstrators have taken to streets over recent weekends to protest against the increasing obstacles for those who refuse to accept the needle. Security forces have made dozens of arrests and used tear gas and water cannon to disperse hardline opponents.
Belgian jails are already massively overcrowded, with the annual cost of holding individual inmates estimated at around €50,000 each. Experts tell of a years-long judicial backlog just in bringing to trial criminal prosecutions.
“We need the population to be united – what we don’t need is yet more polarisation on this issue,” Merckx said.
Flemish nationalist N-VA lawmaker Kathleen De Poorter also opposed a perceived rush to follow the French shift onto a vax ‘passport’, adding: “We want an in-depth, scientific debate. We are not just here to enact the Vivendi (ruling coalition) agenda.”
Belgium’s pandemic crisis committee chaired by Prime Minister Alexander De Croo meets again on Friday, with the application of a fixed ‘dashboard’ governing restrictions dictated by infection data and hospital resources uppermost on the agenda.
“In Belgium as yet there is not an obligation to have received vaccination in order to undertake the exercise of a particular activity nor to gain access to a particular place,” a spokesman for the crisis authority specified.
Official and diplomatic sources told The Brussels Times that the goal of Friday’s set-piece, in coordination with neighbouring European Union partners, is a focus on “tightening, not deepening” existing restrictions.
Merckx’s formation has accumulated between 10 and 13% of vote share – with recent years’ gains notably anchored in French-leaning Wallonia emboldening the federal representation of one-time Communists fighting Flemish nationalist strength.