Belgium’s Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden wants to look into how the mandatory quarantine for people coming from high-risk areas abroad can be made stricter.
On Thursday, 20 students from India who are following a nursing course in Belgium (Leuven and Aalst) turned out to be infected with the Indian variant of the coronavirus.
They are currently quarantining, but Verlinden said on Flemish radio on Friday morning that she wants to discuss with the Region whether the mandatory quarantine can be tightened up.
“Today, people who are in quarantine can, for example, still go to the shop or to the pharmacy,” she said. “We need to see if we need to tighten those guidelines for people who come from high-risk areas.”
In principle, a ban on travel to and from India is currently in force, as it is a third country outside the European Union. However, there are a number of exceptions to that rule, such as for students, healthcare professionals and diplomats.
According to virologist Marc Van Ranst, the list of exceptions to the international travel ban is “far too long,” he said on Twitter. “This country should never wonder how on earth all those variants come waltzing in here.”
De lijst met uitzonderingen voor wie het internationaal reisverbod niet geldt is veel te uitgebreid. Dit land moet zich nooit afvragen hoe in hemelsnaam al die varianten hier komen binnenwalsen.
“We are still very liberal in allowing people to enter our territory and would do better to close a few loopholes,” Van Ranst said on Thursday.
According to Verlinden, the authorities have to continue to monitor whether the list of exceptions is adequate and adapted to the situation.
However, she also added that “a strict border closure causes many problems” and that “we must take into account that we do not make everyday life too difficult.”
A possible general ban on entry from India should be regulated at European and not at Belgian level, according to Verlinden.
“Belgium hardly has any direct flights from India,” she added. “It makes no sense to apply [such a ban] strictly, when those people enter our country from our neighbouring countries.”
In the meantime, State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi announced that he asked the Consultative Committee to temporarily ban foreign students from coming to our country to follow a course or an internship.
“A relocation of students does not seem essential to me in a full-blown sanitary crisis,” Mahdi told VTM News. “Let us pull the emergency brake now, and hopefully it will be a measure that is only of very short duration.”