Pandemic law comes into force today, but will not be applied

Pandemic law comes into force today, but will not be applied
Annelies Verlinden. © Belga

Belgium’s much-discussed pandemic law officially comes into force today, but the law appears unlikely to be put into practice in the course of the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Since the start of the current pandemic, Belgium has relied on a law on public safety, and on ministerial decrees, to introduce the measures considered necessary, including the obligation to wear a face mask, the closure of shops and other businesses, curfew measures and more.

However that approach ran up against a number of objections, including from senior judges, who argued that the government was overstepping the bounds of its authority.

It fell to home affairs minister Annelies Verlinden (CD&V) to square the circle, and steer a tailor-made pandemic law through parliament.

That was eventually achieved, and today the bill passed into law.

The pandemic law states in effect that the government can take any measures required when an epidemic is announced, but only with the approval of parliament. An epidemic emergency is defined as “a serious threat to a large number of people that can cause a serious overload on health facilities and requires coordination at the national level”. It need not be a worldwide pandemic, as at present.

But the new law will not be called into play in the current situation. Unofficially, the government is not willing to evoke at this late stage the authority of parliament to approve the measures it takes.

Officially, advice from the corona commission and the Risk Assessment Group is that the current Covid-19 situation in Belgium does not any longer respond to the definition of an epidemic emergency – largely as a result of the high level of vaccination.

Verlinden’s office told De Standaard that the government would review the situation from time to time.

In the meantime, ministerial decrees in force can continue to be used, and new ones applied if required. The Consultative Committee, meanwhile, has said it hopes the federal crisis phase of the epidemic will end later in the year, and with it many or most of the related measures.

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