Belgium must be ‘careful’ with relaxations for vaccinated people only, warns expert
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Belgium must be ‘careful’ with relaxations for vaccinated people only, warns expert

Credit: Belga

Belgium has to be careful with implementing relaxations only for people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to infectious disease expert Erika Vlieghe, who is not in favour of the possibility.

On Wednesday, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) issued an opinion stating that measures such as wearing a face mask and keeping distance could be “relaxed” for fully vaccinated people when meeting each other.

“We have to view the opinion with caution,” Vlieghe, who chairs the GEMS expert group advising the government, said on Flemish radio on Thursday morning. “It only concerns fully vaccinated people. We are not there yet.”

She stressed that Belgium “has to be careful, and not create extra confusion,” adding that the ECDC’s report is based on provisional results.

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However, Belgium could already start preparing itself for the “transition phase,” in which some relaxations could be considered in specific situations like residential care centres, which are “more or less enclosed” environments.

At the height of the crisis, extra strict measures were taken in those residential care centres, but most residents and staff members have been fully vaccinated in the meantime, prompting Vlieghe to wonder if measures can be lifted earlier for them.

Nevertheless, any possible ambiguity should be avoided, according to her.

“[The ECDC opinion] can encourage people to see what the result will be when we are all vaccinated, but it cannot be the intention that people make these decisions on an individual basis now,” Vlieghe said, adding that expert groups are working on guidelines and recommendations.

In early April, Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke already officially requested advice from the GEMS experts about the topic, following the publication of a similar report by the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

A number of politicians, however, immediately spoke out against the possibility, saying that it was not “not a good idea” to grant certain rights to vaccinated people while everyone is waiting for their shot.

On Wednesday, virologist and interfederal Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht also said that the new ECDC guideline does not mean that the rules in Belgium will change in the short term.

“But in the somewhat longer term, I think we can take this new advice into account in order to make certain adjustments in Belgium as well,” he told VRT. “To me, it seems particularly relevant when more people will be fully vaccinated in the future.”

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times