‘Vaccines are key to freedom’: Belgian PM takes stock of one year of pandemic
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‘Vaccines are key to freedom’: Belgian PM takes stock of one year of pandemic

Credit: Prime Minister/Youtube screengrab

As it is exactly one year ago since the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially declared the coronavirus crisis a pandemic on Thursday, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo gave a speech to take stock of the situation.

In a video message, De Croo stated that Belgium went through a very difficult first and second wave, in which over 22,000 people died. “A year of corona was also a year of great uncertainty. Not only about our health, but also about our future,” he said.

“Almost 1.5 million people temporarily lost their jobs. Young people had to press the pause button during the best time of their lives,” De Croo said, stating that we only got through that because “a lot of positive things were set in motion.”

He thanked the people in the care sector “who have been in the crossfire for 12 months now” for their tireless effort, commitment, perseverance and energy.

“However, we have also seen it in so many others. The people in logistics, the supermarkets, the postmen, to name a few,” De Croo said. “At a time when our country was at a standstill for the most part, they stayed on duty, sometimes in very difficult circumstances.”

He stressed that everyone has become a bit of a caregiver over the past year by looking out for each other. “That made corona also a moment of great national solidarity.”

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“Since the Second World War, we as governments, have never gone so far to support people and businesses financially,” De Croo said, referring to a total of over €22 billion in support measures provided by the federal government.

“Together, we have turned the second peak around to a situation that has now been stable for more than four months,” he said. “But stable does not mean less difficult. I am well aware that although the rules in our country are more relaxed than in other countries, they are still very far-reaching.”

No measure will be kept a day longer than necessary, De Croo promised. “Not the curfew. Not the travel ban. Not the rules indoors. But if we throw all those rules overboard too quickly, things will go wrong again.”

“As long as those who are vulnerable are not vaccinated, we must continue to look out for them,” he said. “That means first making the safest things possible. More outdoor activities, because outside is safer.”

“If we do well in the coming months, we will be able to have another drink together in our favourite café in May,” De Croo said.

“In the meantime, the vaccinations have to continue to speed up,” he stressed. “Yesterday, the millionth coronavirus vaccine was administered in our country. More vaccines will arrive in the coming weeks.”

In March, April and May, Belgium count on a total of 7.5 million vaccines. “That is a lot more than in the past few months. They have to be administered as soon as possible.”

Additionally, De Croo called on everyone to get vaccinated, as “the vaccines are our key to freedom. To a summer where we can travel again, see family and friends at home, go to bars and restaurants together. To a summer with fewer worries.”

Therefore, everyone must keep their commitments, both the vaccine manufacturers and the population, he stressed.

“Get vaccinated,” he said. “To protect yourself, but also to allow your family, friends, all of us to get on with our lives. Getting vaccinated is an act of solidarity.”

The vaccines are safe and effective, De Croo repeated. “More than that, they are a scientific triumph in which Belgian scientists have played a crucial role.”

“A lot has happened in the past year. It was a year of difficult episodes, of severe setbacks. A year in which we discovered how vulnerable we are, and not everything went perfectly,” he said.

“But also a year in which we discovered how strong we are when we work together, and how much we value our freedom and our way of life,” De Croo said. “That way of life, we are going to reclaim in the coming months, step by step. All together.”

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times