The meeting of the Consultative Committee scheduled for this coming Wednesday should decide to postpone the re-opening of the horeca industry – hotels, restaurants and cafes – until after the May 1 deadline the committee previously suggested, according to the head of the coronavirus task force, Pedro Facon.
May 1 was set as a tentative date for the industry to re-open, at a time when it looked as if the figures for the epidemic were moving in the wrong direction to allow a fixed deadline. At the same time, an industry that has been closed down now for five months was in desperate need of assurances that the end might be near.
“We had better not move too fast,” Facon told De Tijd in an interview on Saturday.
By that time, non-essential shops should be open again, and the nation’s children be back at school after the so-called ‘Easter pause’. A decision is awaited for hairdressers and other non-medical contact professions, which were allowed to open and then closed down again in short order.
With those relaxed measures already in place, caution would demand waiting before opening the horeca sector, Facon told the paper.
“Epidemiologically speaking, we should include a three-week rest period after implementing relaxations so that we can estimate their impact,” he said. “Mid-May would be better than May 1.”
But mid-May is already the provisional deadline for a whole series of other relaxations of restrictions. The cultural and events sectors are hoping for a lifeline, and people in general hope for some more flexibility in social contacts.
“Reopening the catering industry as well as relaxing the rules for other indoor activities is too much of a good thing. It would be better to split them up.”
But if his advice is accepted by the committee, that would mean postponing the latest relaxations to mid-June. But there are risks to doing too much too soon.
“If we relax too quickly and too much at the same time, there is a risk of a fourth wave in May and June,” he said.
But all is not bleak.
“The vaccinations will have a major impact on the number of infections and hospital admissions. The most vulnerable will be protected from mid-June. Then we are in a different scenario, even if not everyone has been vaccinated yet.”