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Belgium delays decision on stricter travel rules

Credit: Belga

Belgium has not made a decision on new rules for travellers yet, as key government ministers met to discuss possible measures today, that could be implemented by the Consultative Committee on Friday.

The so-called “core cabinet,” made up of the Prime Minister and all deputy prime ministers, met on Monday morning to work out measures to limit non-essential travel abroad to halt the circulation of coronavirus variants to be submitted to the Consultative Committee on Friday, the Belga press reports.

The Committee, which brings together Belgium’s federal and different Regional governments, will have to make the final decision on which measures get implemented or not, at the end of the week.

However, several experts including former interfederal Covid-19 spokesperson Emmanuel André stated that tighter restrictions were needed right away, and the clearest solution to avoiding the spread of the more infectious variants is to “reduce all movement as much as possible.”

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Additionally, it is a possibility that the key ministers will meet again – possibly twice – before the final decision is taken on Friday, a source told Belga, as the advice of the GEMS expert group advising the government was requested.

A recent GEMS report, delivered to the authorities this weekend, already stated that non-essential travel should be discouraged as much as possible, that fewer journeys should be considered essential, and that controls on testing and quarantine as well as on the necessity of journeys be stepped up.

“The objective remains the most effective possible monitoring of the pandemic, with constant adaptation based on the evolution of the health situation,” the press agency was told.

While Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden told VTM News this weekend that a border closure was not ruled out, she also stated that implementing such a measure would be easier said than done, and that, in European context, Belgium agreed not to close its borders unilaterally.

On Sunday, Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said that a ban on non-essential travel was not on the table – even though a growing number of experts are in favour of such a measure – but that the government might take further steps “by discouraging trips abroad and making them more difficult.”

Currently, the rules for testing and quarantine do not apply to people who have been abroad for less than 48 hours, or who have been in Belgium for less than 48 hours.

Vandenbroucke already stated that this is “a gap” that must be filled, but did not comment on how that should happen, or what a possible shorter timeframe could be.

Justice Minister and Deputy Prime Minister for Flemish liberals Open Vld Vincent Van Quickenborne pleaded for a 16-hour limit, calling it “a proposal that we can live with” on Sunday.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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