'Against discrimination laws': experts worried about Belgian 'corona pass'

'Against discrimination laws': experts worried about Belgian 'corona pass'
Credit: Kurt Desplenter/Belga

Experts are worried about the possibility of introducing a "corona pass" in Belgium, which would allow people to prove that they can safely go to the gym or a restaurant, for example, like the one already used in Denmark.

Brussels Minister-President Rudi Vervoort stated on Sunday that he is in favour of introducing such a pass in Belgium once the entire population has had the chance to get vaccinated, but this would be in violation of the anti-discrimination law, according to discrimination expert Dominique De Meyst.

"People assume that those who have received a vaccine do not have Covid-19 and cannot transmit the disease, and that those who have not received a vaccine do," she explained on Flemish radio.

"However, that does not really hold true, and if we start treating groups in society differently based on that information, that is against discrimination laws," she said.

According to virologist and interfederal Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht, an opinion is currently being drafted on whether or not to introduce certain relaxations for people who have been vaccinated by a special GEMS working group, which includes lawyers, ethicists and sociologists.

"This opinion will soon be forwarded to the ministers and policymakers who will look into it and make a decision," he said during a press conference on Tuesday. "However, you have to be careful with this kind of advice."

In Denmark, people can use the “corona pass” system to show that they have either been fully vaccinated, have tested negative in the previous 72 hours, or have tested positive two to 12 weeks earlier, indicating immunity to the virus.

"At the moment, about one-third of the adult population in Belgium has received a first vaccine dose, so the majority of people are not yet protected," Van Gucht said, stressing that this is "definitely" something to take into account when creating rules for vaccinated people only.

"If and when the situation improves in the near future, it will be possible to relax the rules for everyone anyway," he said. "And maybe a little extra for the vaccinated, but that advice will still be published."

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According to De Meyst, however, it is important that policymakers ask themselves whether such a "corona pass" does not go too far. "There are also less drastic ways to give people their freedom back, but without discriminating against certain groups."

On top of that, Belgium's vaccination campaign does not reach certain population groups, she stressed. "For example, there is a mental gap, a digital gap, or people have certain religious or philosophical beliefs about vaccines."

In an opinion issued on Monday, Unia (the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism) already stated that it would be "problematic" if these groups would be excluded from essential services such as housing, health care, banking and insurance.

“For these groups, denying access to goods or services could be considered a form of discrimination," the centre stated, in which case the pass would be contrary to the anti-discrimination law.

If the Belgian authorities do want to introduce such a pass, "the constitutional objections will remain," according to De Meyst, who added that "there may also be many reservations about the protection of personal data."

"A new legislative framework will also be needed, because managers of restaurants or cinemas are not allowed to decide on their own who they refuse under the current regulations," she added.

Corona Commissioner Pedro Facon, however, has also spoken out in favour of a corona pass, but also stressed that "obviously, a solid legal basis will be needed first."

This basis is also needed to "cover [event] organisers who want to use vaccination or test status," Facon tweeted. "However, that there will be vaccination and test passports, especially once the fully vaccinated (two doses) population grows, is beyond any doubt in my mind."

Last week, Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst also stated that such a system could only be introduced once the entire population had had the chance to get vaccinated.

“I am not in favour of such a system until the whole population has had the opportunity to be vaccinated, or to change their decision (if it was negative first),” Van Ranst, who is a member of the GEMS expert group advising the government, told La Libre then.

“As soon as everyone has had the opportunity to change their mind, we can implement it,” he said.

However, whether or not the Danish pass or a similar system would be introduced in Belgium remains a political decision, according to Van Ranst, who stressed the importance of solidarity between those who are vaccinated and those who aren’t yet.

“We have to wait for the GEMS report to know what will happen at the Belgian level, and what the possibilities will be for the vaccinated people,” he added.

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