Mayor who jumped coronavirus vaccination queue temporarily replaced

Mayor who jumped coronavirus vaccination queue temporarily replaced
Credit: Belga / J. Vliegen

The Belgian mayor who was under investigation for jumping the coronavirus vaccination queue will be temporarily replaced after Sint-Truiden’s municipal council voted unanimously on Monday that she had breached the code of ethics.

Mayor Veerle Heeren of Sint-Truiden in the province of Limburg indicated that she wanted to continue as mayor, but will be taking a break and temporarily resigning her position as mayor, handing over to the first city councillor Jelle Engelbosch.

“Sint-Truiden has nothing to hide. That is why I am making myself 100% available for the audit as requested by Bart Somers [Flemish Home Affairs Minister]. I am counting on a return to calm,” Heeren said after the council meeting, adding that she will make herself available to respond to the ongoing audit in the coming weeks.

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The mayor admitted during a videoconference meeting of the town council that she got fully vaccinated in March when vaccines were restricted to people over the age of 85, even though she is only 56 years old, and that she had passed on the names of 13 people in her immediate circle in order to benefit from the surplus doses from the vaccination centre.

The case against Heeren was first brought to light by local journalist Dirk Selis, who runs a whistle-blowing news site, and who received information from a confidential source who worked in the vaccination centre.

The governor of Limburg province, Jos Lantmeeters, opened an investigation into the case on orders from Somers, who ordered the region’s four other provincial governors to check whether other local politicians did the same.

Engelbosch, who for now will be the acting mayor of Sint-Truiden, told Radio 1 that the resignation of Heeren would only have created more chaos.

He did not disclose for how long Heeren would be stepping down, but said the timing of this will depend on “when she herself indicates that she is ready, and of the governor’s investigation, and what that may reveal.”

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