Lockdown-exit group to be replaced by council for 'living with the new coronavirus'

Lockdown-exit group to be replaced by council for 'living with the new coronavirus'
Illustration picture shows a woman sitting alone on a bench and wearing a mask in the Grand-Place in Brussels, Wednesday in March 2020. © Belga/Thierry Roge

The GEES, the advisory body tasked with steering Belgium out of lockdown, will be replaced by a new advisory council charged with devising a strategy for the country to "learn to live" with the new coronavirus.

The decision to dissolve the GEES coincided with a National Security Council (NSC) meeting on Thursday in which government officials announced the beginning of a new phase in managing the coronavirus crisis.

"A society must be able to look forward. We must find a balance and learn to live with the virus," Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès said, adding that it was not sustainable to continue constantly changing the rules and measures.

At the NSC meeting on Thursday, officials decided to uphold current measures to fight the virus, saying it was not yet time to return to normal even as they slightly relaxed rules regarding shopping or events.

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The new group's focus would reportedly be mental wellbeing and the upcoming framework which will define social contacts in the coming months, De Standaard reports.

The move suggests that officials may have swiped the possibility of returning to lockdown off the table, and is in line with previous statements by Wilmès, who on more than one occasion publicly stated that she wanted to avoid a new lockdown "at all costs."

Created in April to advise the government on how to phase the country out of lockdown, the ten members of GEES reportedly told Wilmès that their mission had been completed, with some supporting the creation of a new advisory group for a more long-term strategy.

Wilmès has reportedly tasked the Celeval, an evaluation unit with the federal Crisis Centre, to being work on the creation of a new advisory experts council to focus on residents' mental well being and social contacts.

A new NSC meeting is set to take place at the latest in one month's time, at which NSC members and the new advisory council will review the current coronavirus measures.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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