Re-opening the country’s cafes and restaurants at this time is ‘unthinkable,’ federal health minister Frank Vandenbroucke said this morning on VRT radio.
Vandenbroucke was commenting on the results of yesterday’s Consultative Committee, which announced that hairdressers would open up again on 13 February, as well as the revival of some leisure activities such as animal parks.
Campsites and holiday parks can open from Monday – more as a result of a ruling by the Council of State, which was simply ratified by the Committee. Other contact professions such as beauticians can go back to work on 1 March.
“This is not the start of major relaxation of measures, it is really too early for that,” Vandenbroucke said.
“I understand the cafe and restaurant operators, it’s awful for them. But the worst thing we could do right now is give those people false hope. A re-opening on March 1 is completely unthinkable.”
In the meantime the horeca sector – hotels, restaurants and cafes – has moderated its demand in the face of the reality. Horeca Vlaanderen, for example, is now calling for no more than a road-map pointing to re-opening.
The most that the sector can hope for now, according to director Matthieu De Caluwé, is a promise that at its next meeting, the Committee will give the sector an indication of when a decision will be taken to allow re-opening.
For Vandenbroucke, however, even mid-March would be premature.
“We see the mountain hut ahead of us, but the journey to it is along difficult paths,” he said.
“I doubt that in the race between the approval of the vaccine and the vaccination of the people, we will already be so far ahead that we can relax sometime in the month of March. I therefore ask for patience.”
His message to the horeca sector contains little of comfort.
“We will not be able to say within 14 days when the vulnerable group will have been vaccinated. We can’t expect any easing until everyone, even 18-year-olds, is vaccinated. But we have to take it step by step. It’s not because you’ve been vaccinated that you are immediately safe,” he said.