Little chance bars and restaurants will reopen this year, expert warns
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Little chance bars and restaurants will reopen this year, expert warns

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The reopening of Belgium’s bars and restaurants is unlikely this year, biostatistician Niel Hens warned amid discussions about the end of the coronavirus lockdown.

“We know that pubs and restaurants are a high-risk environment. That has nothing to do with people in the hospitality industry because they do their best, but it is a meeting place,” Hens explained to VRT.

For that reason, spring seems like a more realistic aim in order to avoid a third wave of the virus, which experts and professionals alike have said cannot happen.

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“Such a wave, however, will never depend on one sector alone, it will be a combination of sectors,” Hens added. This notion is in line with the opinion of the Flemish hospitality industry, which has recently spoken out against an American study which pointed to bars, restaurants (and gyms) as so-called superspreader locations for the virus.

The hospitality industry in Flanders does not think it is right that the blame is “once again” put on bars and restaurants “while this is a joint fight,” explained to Matthias De Caluwe, CEO of Horeca Vlaanderen.

“Over the past few weeks, the problem of higher infections risks in indoor areas has surfaced,” De Caluwe said. “However, if that is a problem in the hospitality industry, then it is surely also a problem at work, in classes and in people’s homes?”

Are Schools The Problem?

The partial reopening of schools after the extended vacation will – in the “most extreme scenario” – cause a bend in Belgium’s curve, but it will continue to fall, according to Hens.

“Why would the curve rise again? Is it due to schools opening? Or, for example, because parents will then work less teleworking and come into contact with each other. You have a direct and an indirect impact and that is very difficult to quantify”.

To Hens, however, there remains a need for half classes instead of full where possible, “that has to do with ventilation and being able to take distance from each other. For some schools, however, this is not possible, we have to realise that”.

As it stands, Belgium is expected to reevaluate the measures at the end of November. Speaking on Friday Prime Minister Alexander de Croo announced that the lockdown would last at least 2 more weeks. “Especially given the reopening of the schools on Monday 16 November, extreme caution continues to be required,” a statement by Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo stated.

The next Consultative Committee is scheduled for Friday 27 November.

Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times