Yesterday’s meeting of the Consultative Committee took some hesitant decisions on the relaxation of measures against Covid-19 and avoided some others. That led to a wide range of reactions.
Willy Demeyer, Mayor of Liège, warned that his police would not be able to do anything if as promised the restaurants in the city decided to go ahead and open on 1 May. The committee pushed back the opening to 8 May, and then only for terraces.
“You have to realise that there are more than a thousand potential terraces, with all the restaurants and cafes,” he told RTL. “It is impossible. Anyone who knows Liège can see all the places we are talking about: I know that the police are not sufficiently staffed.”
To which prime minister Alexander De Croo responded, “I have confidence in the mayors that they understand they have to give a good example.”
The weddings sector said it was satisfied with the announcement on allowing events in the open air with larger numbers. “The resumption of outdoor activities and events open to 50 people is a first step towards the recovery of our sector,” said Cynthia De Clercq, spokesperson for the federation of wedding providers HL Belgium. “We hope for a full reboot in June.”
The medical experts, on the other hand, agree that now – and even 8 May – is not the time to be loosening controls.
“That seems like dancing on a tightrope,” said Marc Noppen, CEO of Brussels university hospital. “I have the impression that a calculated risk is being taken and that vaccination is being counted on,” he said, whereas the rate of coverage at present is nowhere near high enough.
“It has never happened before in this pandemic that easing takes place while the figures are still at such a high plateau. I understand that the pressure from society was high, but it is daring to start already. announcing the entire sequence of consecutive relaxations.”
The relaxations, however, are unlikely to do much to the growing sentiment of rebellion in the cities especially, with lockdown parties in parks and squares numbering into the hundreds.
“In order to motivate people better, relaxation should be more directly linked to our behaviour,” said Omer Van den Bergh, a health care psychologist at the University of Leuven. “We are those numbers. That could be framed better,” he said.
Federal health minister Frank Vandenbroucke may be a politician, but he has no electorate, and that allows him to fully back the experts and the figures. Speaking last night on VTM News, he appeared to regret the fact that a whole series of relaxations had been announced while the health situation hangs in the balance, and stressed that each of the dates attached remains provisional.
“A balance has been sought, on the one hand between the desire of many people to get back to work, and on the other hand the conditions for a safe society,” he said. What the precise figure for Covid cases would be that triggers more relaxations, he would not say.
“We don’t want to tie ourselves to an exact number. The situation in the hospitals has to get better, otherwise, there will be no relaxations at all.”