Cultural events in Flanders can now allow larger audiences, so long as each person or group of persons is separated from the next by one empty seat, minister-president Jan Jambon, who is also in charge of culture, has announced.
The rules on events of all kinds start from a strict limit of 200 people attending indoor events, and 400 outdoors.
However the culture sector, and others such as organisers of business events, complained that the numerical limit was unworkable, as it fails to take account of the size of a venue. An audience of 200 in a small art cinema is not the same as 200 people in a large concert hall, organisers pointed out.
Jambon took it upon himself to consult with virologists to see if there was a way to meet the sector’s demands. What they came up with has three parts.
In the first place, masks must be worn. That is an inflexible condition for situations where many people are gathered in close proximity.
Then, the rule about leaving alternate rows of seats empty is scrapped.
Finally, the one-metre social distance between bubbles is reduced to one seat.
According to the calculations, one empty seat between two people means each of them has a space of at least 83cm on each side, to the back and to the front. The extra 17cm was costing venues an entire row of seats. As long as everyone is wearing a mask correctly, the experts said, 83cm social distance is sufficient.
“This simplified measure will allow some venues to operate at more than 60 percent capacity,” Jambon said in a press release.
“That is really an important boost, because time is short for the entire sector.”
The Culture Crisis Cell, which was set up to lobby the authorities back when cultural venues remained closed even when the bars opened up again, has welcomed the new rules.
“This measure and the formulated conditions are workable for us,” said spokesperson Tom Kestens.
“Moreover, they are a result of shorter lines between the sector, the virologists and the minister. In this way we avoid confusion and the measures are also supported.”