Almost a year after Belgium first went into lockdown, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo answered people's questions about the coronavirus situation over the coming months.
In a Facebook Live on Wednesday evening, De Croo recalled the importance of vaccination, echoing statements from his earlier speech, in which he took stock of one year of pandemic.
He urged everyone to get vaccinated as "an act of solidarity," adding that "the more people get vaccinated, the faster we can resume our way of life from before the crisis."
De Croo assured people that vaccinations in residential care centres are starting to show their effectiveness, and added that the pace of vaccination should pick up in the coming weeks.
Terraces and the hospitality industry
Questioned if Belgium could ensure that the terraces of the cafés, bars and restaurants would be able to reopen on 1 May, De Croo answered that it depends on the situation.
"It is a question that a lot of people are asking," he said, referring to the timeline the Consultative Committee announced last Friday, which states that the hospitality sector can reopen entirely in May.
"We have given the prospect of 1 May, but it is conditional on whether or not the epidemiological situation is favourable and evolves well, and on the vaccination campaign."
"I have learned that in this crisis, we must always be cautious,” said De Croo. "But if we continue to respect the rules in the coming weeks, the terraces will be able to open on 1 May."
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Travel and vaccination passports
When asked if people would be able to travel this summer, De Croo said that non-essential travel is currently banned until 18 April, but stressed that the ban will be lifted "immediately" if it is no longer necessary.
"Honestly, I would be surprised if travel were still banned this summer," he added. However, De Croo also said that the possibility of travelling should not be dependent on so-called "vaccination passports."
"A person who is not vaccinated cannot be denied the possibility to travel," he said, adding that nevertheless, he is in favour of Europe-wide coordination to facilitate travel with those certificates, which will also show the result of a recent PCR test.
However, De Croo did not rule out the possibility that other countries outside the EU might eventually require proof of vaccination - the same way some countries in Africa require proof of vaccination against yellow fever.
According to him, it would be a good thing if Europe could work out such a certificate in a common manner. "That way, we take the lead in this, and do not have to let ourselves be dictated by other countries."
Events and festivals
Asked about organising larger-scale activities in open air, De Croo reiterated that events with about 50 people would be allowed again from 1 April, as per the Consultative Committee's timeline, if the situation evolves well.
"We will confirm this possibility at the next Committee on 26 March," he said, adding that people can already meet outdoors in groups of ten since 8 March.
For truly large-scale events such as summer festivals, De Croo was cautious and did "not want to give false hope."
"We are developing a whole strategy based on tests and rapid tests that we can do on-site, for example, and we are looking into how we can use them to make these kinds of events happen," he said.
However, it is "difficult to give a positive answer" for festivals which are normally organised in June or July, according to De Croo, who referred to some festivals which already decided not to organise their editions in early summer.
"Normally, we should be able to clarify in May whether large festivals could take place during the second half of the summer or in September," he said. "Today, you cannot put a fixed date on it, knowing that organising a festival involves a lot of planning. If you set that in motion, there should be no doubt about it."
The entire Facebook Live, in which De Croo answers questions in Dutch and French, can be watched here.
The Brussels Times