With the "Freedom plan" proposed by the Flemish government this weekend, Belgium could have a beautiful summer, but only if everyone is extra careful now, according to Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke.
Speaking on VTM News on Sunday evening, he reacted to earlier statements by Prime Minister Alexander De Croo that large festivals should be possible again in the second half of the summer, with vaccination certificates and negative tests.
"I think we can indeed have a beautiful summer, and I call for clear, careful agreements to ensure that major festivals can continue safely," Vandenbroucke said, referring to it as a kind of "festival pact," which should depend on four conditions.
"Firstly, you can only start organising big festivals when hospitals are a safe haven, and normal health care is guaranteed," he said. "The number of people with Covid in intensive care must be drastically reduced, and the number of daily hospitalisations must also decrease."
The second condition, according to Vandenbroucke, is the safety of the young people attending the events. "You have to show that you have been vaccinated or that you have had a recent negative test. A 'corona passport' is essential."
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"Thirdly, the people attending have to be tested at the event every day," Vandenbroucke said. "The capacity will depend on that."
The fourth condition is "to be careful with people who come from distant countries with other variants of the virus," according to him. "Certainly, only people from the European Union [will be allowed to attend], and only from countries that have the coronavirus under control."
Vandenbroucke said that "if the intention is to make this a beautiful summer, then I think we have to be more careful than appears from all the announcements."
Belgium first has to "build up a buffer, to not ruin the summer," he said, adding that "this is still a risky period" and that while the vaccination campaign is going well, a large part of the population has not been vaccinated yet.
The plan, however, is "completely at odds with what [the GEMS experts] had proposed," according to infectious disease expert and chair of the GEMS group Erika Vlieghe.
"I note that our advice has been pushed aside,” she told the Belga news agency, adding that the government is being "impudent" and that politicians are aware of the fact that the experts do not support the plans.
“Despite the high vaccination rate we will hopefully have achieved by then, there will still be too many uncertain factors,” Vlieghe said.
In the meantime, the Minister-President of Belgium's Francophone Community, Pierre-Yves Jeholet, also stated that the "Freedom plan" seems to prioritise big (Flemish) festivals like Tomorrowland, while neglecting the country's wider culture sector.
“I have the impression that Flanders is very interested in big cultural events. I am interested in reopening all culture,” Jeholet said on Monday on Bel RTL.
Tomorrow/Tuesday, Belgium's Consultative Committee will meet at 9:00 AM to discuss the exact details and conditions of what De Croo called "a broad Summer Plan." A press conference to announce the latest decisions is expected after, his cabinet confirmed to The Brussels Times.