What to expect from Belgium's Consultative Committee today

What to expect from Belgium's Consultative Committee today
Credit: Belga

After a "time out" of a week, Belgium's Consultative Committee will meet again on Friday to discuss possible relaxations, as the coronavirus curve is stabilising after last week's sudden peak.

The Consultative Committee will meet again in person from 2:00 PM today, and its decisions will be announced during a press conference afterwards, the cabinet of Prime Minister Alexander De Croo confirmed to The Brussels Times.

In the Chamber on Thursday, De Croo said that the authorities were working on a so-called "outdoor plan" to give people perspective, as the infection risk during outdoor activities is much lower than indoor activities.

What exactly that plan entails and whether that meant relaxations will be announced is not certain, but De Croo did not rule anything out. "We cannot ignore the fact that the measures, despite being relatively stable, have an impact on the resilience, motivation and mental health of many."

The Consultative Committee has "a dual mission," according to De Croo: "give people perspective for the weeks and months ahead, but also take an approach that is prudent, reasonable and safe. That is what people expect from us."

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On Tuesday, Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon already stated that the agenda of last week's meeting would be on the table again today, and that the relaxations that were expected then could be approved now.

This means that the expansion of people's contact bubbles for outdoor activities will be discussed again, with Flemish Christian-democrat CD&V party leader Joachim Coens even pushing for a ten-person bubble.

On Thursday morning, however, Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke stated that the first relaxations should focus on young people and school pupils, who are suffering from the part-time distance-learning system, according to him.

He also said that, even though the feared explosive increase in hospital admissions did not happen, the number of hospitalisations is still rising, and that caution was still necessary. “There are now 434 Covid patients in intensive care," he said. "That is huge.”

Virologist and member of the GEMS expert group advising the government Steven Van Gucht already stated a small relaxation for outdoors is an option, but that March is not a good time to relax too many measures, referring to the mathematical models showing that April or May would be a lot safer.

Belgium's ban on non-essential travel will also be discussed, as it is not expected to be extended beyond 1 April, but instead replaced with stricter checks on testing and quarantining for those crossing the borders.

Lastly, the so-called “roadmap” to handle the next stages of the pandemic that the authorities asked the GEMS expert group to draw up at the start of February, is also expected to be ready.

Several experts already stated that the roadmap will not focus on the calendar – like Belgium’s exit plan after the first wave – but on the evolution of the curve, taking into account the number of infections, hospitalisations and deaths, as well as the progress of the vaccination campaign.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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