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Limited social contact is not a choice, says Belgian PM

Credit: Belga

Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès said that she knows that the limited social contact that the exit plan allows is not enough, but that this situation is not a choice.

On Thursday, Wilmès faced a lot of criticism during the Plenary Session in the Chamber, both regarding the press conference detailing the exit plan that started late of Friday evening, and the plan itself, which focusses too much on economy, and too little on social contact, according to several political parties.

“We will see our boss before we see our family, and safety will not be guaranteed in the workplace,” said Raoul Hedebouw of the far-left PVDA/PTB party.

Wilmès addressed the draft recommendations by the Group of Experts for the Exit Strategy (GEES) that leaked ahead of the National Security Council last week.

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“This was a preliminary text. It did, indeed, state that family meetings of 10 people would become possible, but the experts of GEES changed their mind, and that’s their right,” said Wilmès. “They thought this was too broad, and that it was not safe for the population. The situation of the leak brought false hope to the people and I regret that,” she added.

Before Phase 1A will start on Monday 4 May, several ways to see friends and family were already possible, she pointed out. “I know that it is not enough. Of course, it’s not enough. But it is obligatory,” Wilmès said. “We are in this situation now. It’s not a choice, it is really not. I would like people to at least be more aware of that, no matter how critical they may be about this government,” she added.

Translation: “There are different ways to see family and friends during this period, and there will be more during the deconfinement. But we know very well that it’s not enough. We all hope to see our family and friends again as soon as possible.”

It has always been possible to go see someone to help them, for example, to bring groceries, or to visit isolated people who cannot move around, according to Wilmès. “You can now also visit a family member in a residential care centre, when all safety conditions are met,” said Wilmès, adding this is already happening is some centres in Brussels and Wallonia.

Cycling or going for a walk is still only allowed with one extra person who does not live in the same house this weekend. “From Monday 4 May, you will be able to exercise with 2 other people,” Wilmès said. “Is that enough? Are we happy with that? Probably not. But again, we are facing Covid-19, and this virus will not spare us,” she added.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times