These sectors want relaxations from today’s Consultative Committee
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These sectors want relaxations from today’s Consultative Committee

Credit: Belga

Even though Belgium’s new coronavirus infections and hospitalisations have started rising again, several sectors have requested relaxations from the Consultative Committee today.

The Consultative Committee will meet in person from 2:00 PM today to discuss possible changes to the coronavirus measures, and will announce its decisions during a press conference afterwards, the cabinet of Prime Minister Alexander De Croo confirmed to The Brussels Times.

Hospitality industry wants to open on 1 April

With their “Safe Spring Plan,” cafés, bars and restaurants across the country want to open again step by step, between the start of April and 1 July, with the government’s measures in mind.

“We can be an ally, a part of the solution, to make people persevere towards the reign of freedom,” Matthias De Caluwe, CEO of Horeca Vlaanderen, said in a press release. “A number of uniform measures should get us there.”

He stressed that a reopening of bars and restaurants would be a good thing for various other groups, including for students who could pick up a student job again, as well as a great mental boost for many people.

Travel sector wants clarity and perspective

Belgium’s travel sector is demanding clarity on whether the ban on non-essential travel will still be in force during the Easter holidays, as well as some perspectives for the summer holidays.

This week, Brussels Airlines announced that it is preparing for the summer with a reopening of several popular holiday destinations, but tour operator TUI has cancelled all its non-European journeys in April.

It is possible that the travel sector will get some good news this afternoon, as the European Commission has pressured Belgium into lifting its ban on non-essential journeys earlier than the set date of 1 April, or at least not to extend it again.

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Event sector wants a roadmap to relaxations

Sound of Silence, an organisation representing the culture and events sector during the coronavirus crisis, and the Crisis Cell for Culture have argued for a clear roadmap to allow “controlled and organised events.”

The summer festivals have also asked for more clarity about whether or not they will be allowed to take place, and in what capacity. Planning a music festival takes months, and even medium-sized organisations should already be preparing for it by now, according to the sector stressed.

Organising festivals like in 2019, however, with tens of thousands of people coming together from across the whole world, is “impossible” at this point, according to Van Ranst.

Politicians want relaxations as well

Even though De Croo and Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke stressed that the reopening of hairdressers could not become the start of a whole series of relaxations, several politicians have proposed some new measures.

– Outdoor social bubble of eight people?
A proposal by several Green MPs to expand social bubbles from four to eight people for outdoor activities was not immediately shot down by virologists.

According to Marc Van Ranst, it is a small change that “can mean something to a lot of people,” and Steven Van Gucht also called it “a relatively small risk.”

– Lifting the curfew?
Last week, the leader of the Flemish liberal Open VLD party Egbert Lachaert openly questioned if Belgium still needed the curfew measure, saying that politicians and experts had to ask whether the rule was still “efficient, necessary, proportionate and temporary.”

On Wednesday, the different political youth parties in Flanders jointly called for the abolition of the measure, saying that it was “one measure too many.”

However, Van Ranst stated on Thursday that the curfew “remains very useful,” following several uncontrolled parties and large gatherings in several cities this week.

– More cuddle contacts?
On Wednesday, co-president of the Francophone green Ecolo party Jean-Marc Nollet admitted that he had not been respecting the one cuddle contact rule for a few weeks now, and called on the government to allow more social contact.

Despite all the calls for relaxed measures, however, the latest report by the GEMS experts advising the federal government, seen by De Morgen, stated that there is no room for relaxations before the end of March.

“In the short term, little is possible. Period,” one source told the newspaper.

However, that does not mean that no relaxations will be announced later today, as the final decisions will be made by the politicians at the Consultative Committee, not by the experts.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times