Decisions will be made at the security council, ‘not in the press’
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Decisions will be made at the security council, ‘not in the press’

Sophie Wilmès in her front-row seat in the parliament. © Belga

Any announcement on the future of Belgium’s lockdown will come from Friday’s meeting of the  National Security Council (NSC) – not from leaks or the press, the Belgian Prime Minister said on Thursday.

Questioned in the plenary session of the House, Sophie Wilmès did not expand on any of the decisions that could be taken Friday during the NSC devoted to the deconfinement measures expected from 3 May, but did move to chastise the leaks.

“It is within the NSC that decisions on the next steps will be taken. And only at the NSC, not in the press, not through leaks, not through interviews. If you want to pay attention one time, that would be the moment,” she said.

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First published by Le Soir, then widely spread by the Belga News Agency, the leak provided details of the recommendations included in a draft by the Group of Experts for an Exit Strategy (GEES). The publication of the draft, which recommended a partial reopening of businesses and shops from 4 May and a return to school from 18 May later drew the ire of senior officials throughout the country.

Speaking on Thursday in the House, Wilmès the neither confirmed nor denied the measures that could be taken, once again deploring the leak in the press.

“A lot of information has leaked out, which I deplore in view of the challenge. It is a lack of respect for the work and completely irresponsible towards the population. Deconfinement is a delicate operation, we cannot afford to disrupt the message to the population.”

“We will be able to give prospects. But we will not be able to give guarantees,” she said. Wilmès also warned that a return to stricter containment could also occur in the future if the coronavirus epidemic resurges.

Speaking on the leak, Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst expressed his anger at whoever shared the document, calling the act “irresponsible, reprehensible and almost criminal.”

“This is one of the versions that has been on the table for the past few weeks. Things have been deleted and things have been added. This has not been fully checked with politicians and it is certainly not the final result of the expert group,” he told De Morgen.

Moving Slowly

Speaking on Thursday, Walloon Minister-President Elio Di Rupo, expressed that it was his expectation that Belgium must move forward “slowly and in a very thoughtful way so that there is no new outbreak of contamination in the coming weeks forcing us to start from scratch.”

When asked about the Regions’ collaboration with the Federal government, he paid tribute to Wilmès “who has succeeded in getting all the entities to talk to each other and cooperate”, particularly during the interministerial conferences that have multiplied since the beginning of the crisis.

“Collaboration with the Federal Government is optimal and not at all chaotic. We can be happy that our country, in all its institutional diversity, manages to manage”, concluded Rupo.

The NSC will meet on Friday to discuss a litany of measures, with a press conference to explain any changes expected afterwards.

Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times