Mayor of Antwerp Bart De Wever made another call to allow the Belgian hospitality sector to re-open, this time suggesting that businesses should be allowed to serve outdoors on their terraces by the Easter Holidays.
De Wever said this could help avoid large groups of people gathering parks and cities in Belgium as people are not allowed to travel abroad during the holidays.
"Personally, I don't see the point of keeping the outdoor catering industry closed during the Easter holidays,” he said during the ‘De zevende dag’ program on Sunday.
The mayor and other politicians have previously urged the government to allow the sector, which has been closed since 19 October, to open its doors sooner than 1 May, the date suggested in the previous Consultative Committee.
Fellow party member and Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon made the same point during a VTM News broadcast on Sunday, saying "by putting those people (who gather in the parks) on the terraces of the catering industry, the manager of the restaurant will make sure that it is done in accordance with the measures.”
Mayor of Flemish coastal municipality of Middelkerke Jean-Marie Dedecker already said that he would allow the cafés and restaurants in his commune to set up their terraces and that he would also authorise the reinstallation of the beach bars, even if current measures don’t allow people to visit them.
However, there are several risks and precautions to consider when looking at re-opening terraces sooner, from avoiding another closure of the sector to the risk of it resulting in rising infections.
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Both Mohamed Ridouani, the Leuven mayor, and Mathias De Clercq, Mayor of Ghent, said reopening terraces could be a difficult issue, adding that the evolution of the virus must be considered to avoid the third wave.
Referring to the situation of last year, where the hospitality sector was re-opened during the summer months but then had to close its doors again, De Clercq said this should be avoided this time around, during the same talk show.
“What nobody wants to experience is another yo-yo effect. Opening something and having to close it again shortly afterward. Then we are all mentally dead,” he added.
Mohamed Ridouani, the Leuven mayor, agreed with this argument, and said he would rather look towards 1 May, adding that “this is not that long anymore, and for the hospitality industry, that date is really a handhold."
CEO Matthias De Caluwe of Horeca Flanders already previously said that he does not fully support the exclusive re-opening of terraces, adding “it is not economically viable for a café or restaurant to run solely on its terrace.”
A very real risk of infection, even outdoors
Looking at the health impact of re-opening these terraces sooner than expected, Steven Van Gucht said earlier this month that, even though people would be sitting outdoors, the risk of transmitting the virus still exists.
“When talking with a person around the same table for maybe an hour, there is still a very real chance that you will transmit the virus,” he said.
He emphasised that people can still see more people outdoors now - in Belgium, people can meet in groups of up to 10 people in open-air - but that this can only be done when keeping a safe distance and wearing a face mask at all times.
“If we look to re-open terraces in the future, then people will be sitting much closer together, which increases the chances of infections,” he added.
When eating or drinking, people will also be more inclined to take off their face masks, which will further spread the virus amongst those at the same table.
Van Gucht added that, once these outdoor terraces do re-open, only people within the same bubble could sit together, but that it is impossible to guarantee that all people at one table are part of the same bubble, and “we can’t expect managers of these businesses to check this,” he said.
The Brussels Times