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What Belgium’s two ‘milestones’ for relaxations mean

Besides a decreased number of patients in intensive care, two “milestones” in Belgium’s vaccination strategy should also lead to further relaxations, the Consultative Committee decided on Wednesday.

Following the restart of schools and the lifting of the non-essential travel ban on 19 April, and the end of the “Easter pause” on 26 April, the next relaxations will be based on milestones in the vaccination campaign, announced Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

First milestone: 70% of over-65s vaccinated

“The first milestone is when seven out of ten people over 65 years old will have received their first vaccine dose,” De Croo said. “Two to three weeks later, there will be an optimal effect on their immune system.”

The authorities expect that this moment will be “around 8 May.”

From then on, Belgium will switch to a broader outdoor plan if the situation in intensive care units has “sustainably improved,” De Croo added.

A specific threshold for what that means, however, has not been put forward, De Croo said. “We think that the situation will be better on 8 May, it looks like we are at the peak now.”

In that case, terraces will be allowed to reopen, the curfew will be lifted and replaced by a ban on gatherings of more than three people at night, people will be allowed to invite two close contacts of the same household in their homes.

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Organised outdoor activities will once again be possible with a maximum of 25 people (without an audience, and without overnight stays) for all ages, and worship services, cultural performances, and events with a maximum of 50 people will also be allowed outside.

Children up to and including 12 years old can also take part in activities indoors with a maximum of 10 people, and amusement parks can reopen, and professional flea markets can be organised again.

Second milestone: ‘nearly all’ over-65s and vulnerable people vaccinated

The second milestone will be when almost all over-65s and vulnerable people with an underlying condition (an estimated 1.2 to 1.5 million) are vaccinated and protected, according to De Croo.

“This is expected in early June,” he said, adding that from then on, events will be possible again and more will also be possible indoors.

De Croo stressed that, besides vaccination progress, the situation in the intensive care units will also be considered, so that quality care for non-Covid patients can also be guaranteed.

The situation must have “normalised” by June, according to Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke, who mentioned the “critical threshold” of 500 Covid-19 patients in intensive care that should be reached.

“No matter how you look at it, none of us will be safe unless everyone is safe,” De Croo said. “So I’m calling on everyone: get vaccinated. Sign up for a reserve list. The vaccinations are speeding up. The vaccination plan is the only real exit plan.”

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times