The Flemish community yesterday followed the example of its French-speaking counterpart by cutting the minimum social distance in cultural events from 1.5m to 1m.
The distance is roughly the equivalent of one theatre seat, and the change is intended to allow venues to make more use of their seating capacity and allow more people to be present.
The distance is measured between individuals or between bubbles. In other words, a couple may sit together, leaving one seat free on either side. Masks need only be worn when distancing is not possible.
The cultural world goes into September, then, in code yellow. According to Jan Jambon, Flemish minister-president and minister for culture, it will be up to provincial authorities to adjust the code for culture according to the local pandemic situation.
And he called for all operators to take a proportional approach.
“There must at all times be a good balance between the interests of social life on the one hand and public health on the other,” he said.
The platform for cultural organisations, which has worked to bring about a change in the rules to save the embattled sector, said the decision was a welcome one.
“This way more places will be available in the venues and people can still enjoy the performances in a safe way,” said spokesperson Leen Laconte.
Although the measure does not meet the sector’s demand for audience numbers to be calculated according to the capacity of the venue, it goes some way to increasing the numbers.
“According to the 1.5m scheme, 100 people could be allowed into our large hall,” said Inge Jooris, spokesperson for the Royal Flemish Theatre (KVS) in Brussels.
“Now that will be between 250 and 300 people.”
The decision by the Flemish community came in the wake of a decision along the same lines by the French community, which effectively drew a border through the centre of Brussels.
In the Belgian system, culture, like education, is a responsibility of the communities – more a question of language than of location.
In Brussels, then, events organised under the auspices of the French community, for example at the Théâtre National, could have been organised on the basis of 1m distancing, while people attending an event at the KVS, barely 200m away, would have to remain 1.5m apart.
The former event would also be able to welcome more public than the latter, and raise more income. That dissonance is now removed.