Relaxing rules before Easter is ‘shooting ourselves in the foot’, says Van Gucht
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Relaxing rules before Easter is ‘shooting ourselves in the foot’, says Van Gucht

Credit: Belga

If Belgium begins to relax some coronavirus measures before Easter, the country would be “shooting itself in the foot,” according to interfederal Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht.

Since hairdressers have reopened last weekend, a number of politicians are calling for steps towards deconfinement, with Georges-Louis Bouchez, the leader of the Francophone liberal MR party, even suggesting that restaurants could open again as early as 21 March.

However, the period between now and Easter is crucial, Van Gucht told Het Laatste Nieuws. “Timing is very important, it can turn everything upside down. Choosing the wrong moment would be like shooting yourself in the foot. Going too fast is not an option.”

Even though Belgium’s coronavirus infection and hospitalisation figures are continuing their downward trend, they are not good enough to start relaxing yet, according to Van Gucht, referring to the set thresholds of 800 infections and 75 hospitalisations per day that should be reached first.

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“February and March remain complicated months,” he said, adding that he is not expecting any drastic drops over the coming weeks.

While Van Gucht is not against some more freedom for students in higher education, real relaxations should not be considered at the Consultative Committee next week.

“With all relaxations come a number of risks. There will always be a price to pay,” he said. “If we relax rules now, there would be a good chance of a third wave between April and June.”

The GEMS expert group advising the government, which Van Gucht is a member of, is currently working on protocols to allow the gradual reopening of sectors that have been shut down, such as the hospitality industry and the sports and culture sectors.

While no dates have been put forward so far, several experts have pointed to the fact that caution is important, and that the focus should be on the curves, not on the calendar.

Initial feedback from their meetings, however, suggests that the focus will be on outdoor activities, report several media. It is a possibility that people will be allowed to see a larger number of others, but only outdoors.

This means, however, that the GEMS’ advice is therefore heavily relying on warmer weather in the spring.

During the previous Consultative Committee, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced that the authorities had asked the GEMS to draw up a clear “roadmap” on how to handle the next phases of the pandemic, which would be discussed at the next meeting.

The measures for the hospitality industry, the culture and events sector, and the sports and activities sectors will be on the agenda on Friday 26 February, according to Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon. “However, that does not mean that any relaxations will automatically be possible from then on.”

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times