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Coronavirus: Flanders criticised for failing to get tough

Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon. © Belga

Yesterday Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon announced his government’s decision not to take any measures additional to those decided by the federal consultative committee last week.

His counterparts in Wallonia and Brussels, by contrast, had decided to go one step further than the federal measures, for example by extending the night-time curfew by three hours. In Brussels, the entire cultural sector was closed down from today until 19 November.

Jambon expressed the Flemish government’s preference for waiting to see what the would be of the measures already in place, before deciding whether to go further.

One potential problem could be in Brussels, where in some instances Flemish and Walloon come together, as in the field of higher education.

Education is a responsibility of the language communities rather than the regions. So when the French Community decided to switch to distance learning, and Flanders said nothing on the subject, it became unclear what the situation would be in Flemish higher education in Brussels.

In the end, however, the discrepancy sorted itself out, as the Flemish institutions in Brussels chose for themselves to switch to code red, coming into line with their French-speaking counterparts.

The decision by Flanders not to take additional measures came as a disappointment to Petra De Sutter, federal minister for administrative affairs, and Margot Cloet, director of health-care network Zorgnet Icuro. Both had been hoping Jambon would follow suit and tighten the measures in Flanders at least as much as Wallonia and Brussels had done.

I have the feeling that, after what happened in the first wave, we no longer dare to take certain measures that will yield a profit in the long term,” Cloet said.

The health-care sector in general, meanwhile, would wish to see tougher measures everywhere than those already taken. The prospect of hospitals being overwhelmed is becoming more real by the day.

Virologist Marc Van Ranst described Jambon’s position as “incomprehensible”. Jambon had said he wasn’t about to start hosing down his house in case it might catch fire next week.

The house is on fire here [in Flanders] as well,” Van Ranst said. “Jambon seems to think that the world is no bigger than Belgium.”

In practice it may now come down to individual communes and the measures that are within the responsibility of local mayors.

At the front line are those communes in the Flemish periphery of Brussels, among them Hans Bonte (sp.a) of Vilvoorde.

Bonte criticised Jambon for delaying the inevitable.

It is true that we can take local action and we will also take this responsibility. But this pandemic is a global problem. That’s why we’re working together,” he said.

He has, he said, been in contact with the governor of the province of Flemish Brabant, Jan Spooren (N-VA). And he will take part this morning in a meeting with 18 of his counterparts from the periphery to examine the situation in the area.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

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