Provinces ask Flanders for strict, uniform coronavirus rules tonight

Provinces ask Flanders for strict, uniform coronavirus rules tonight
Credit: Belga

Flanders has been urged by several Flemish provincial governors to take strict and uniform new measures against coronavirus, ahead of the ministerial council scheduled for tonight.

Following criticism for his statements about "not putting out a fire that is not there yet" this weekend, Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon announced that Flanders could discuss possible new measures on Tuesday at 6:00 PM, following several meetings with ministers, provincial governors and experts.

"The vote from East Flanders is unanimous: stricter measures are needed," the governor of the East Flanders province, Carina Van Cauter said on Flemish radio, adding that "unambiguous and uniform" measures for the entire Flemish region should be taken.

"This will create greater support among the citizens. We must avoid a patchwork quilt [of measures]," Van Cauter said, adding that authorities should not try to one-up each other with measures.

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The provincial governor of Antwerp, Cathy Berx - who implemented Belgium's first coronavirus curfew in Antwerp during the summer - also said this weekend that it was "five minutes past midnight" already, and that it was "high time" that "very far-reaching restrictions" were taken.

"If we do not break the curve now, we will have unsolvable problems within 14 days," Flemish Minister for Domestic Administration Bart Somers told VTM News.

"That is why we need to take a well-defined period, such as the extended autumn holiday, to try to stop the virus. And we do that by keeping our social contacts to a minimum," he said.

However, this will only work if uniform measures are taken for the whole of Flanders, according to Somers. "The local authorities are holding on by the skin of their teeth," he said, adding that that is why the measures have to come from a higher level.

"The more widely supported the measures are, the better," Somers said. "We have to act collectively, and we have to fight the virus together with all Flemish people."

What exactly these new measures should be, however, has not been decided yet. According to Antwerp governor Berx, strengthening the rules for teleworking would be smart. "There are still many people on the road, and on public transport," she said.

"In people's leisure time, the number of social contacts really needs to be reduced as well," she said, echoing calls by Van Cauter.

The governor of the West Flanders province, Carl De Caluwé, is also in favour of restricting the measures to avoid physical contact between people, and is even in favour of banning all events until 2021, reports VRT.

Several municipalities have already stated that they will take additional measures themselves, if the government does not implement new restrictions. "We are asking our associations and (sports) organisations to press the pause button," said Johan Leysen, the mayor of the municipality of Balen in Antwerp.

"If there are no restrictions before the end of the week, we will impose measures ourselves, but we hope that will not be necessary."

According to intensivist Geert Meyfroidt, closing the schools is an option that must be considered. "It was noble to keep them open as long as possible. I was very supportive of that, and education is important, but now we are in a disaster scenario," he said on Flemish television.

The school context is still safe for children as they are not the ones that get sick. "However, they are vectors," Meyfroidt said, adding that many children are admitted to hospital for something not Covid-related who still turn out to be infected after a screening.

Flanders meeting later today follows the decisions by the Walloon and Brussels regional government to further tighten the federal coronavirus measures introduced on Friday morning, by extending the curfew and introducing stricter rules for sports and culture.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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