Olivier Matthys

Relaxation of coronavirus measures due on 1 April to be delayed

A week earlier than had been originally planned the Consultative Committee that is made up of Belgium’s federal, regional and language community governments met on Friday afternoon. The meeting that took place via video conference had been brought forward due to a worrying rise in the number of people testing positive for coronavirus and in the number of people with COVID-19 that have been hospitalised during the past week or so. 

VRT News sources say that those at the meeting that lasted around three hours had some difficulty in reaching a consensus on what would be the best way forward. However, agreement was finally reached and the measures that will impact all our lives for the next few weeks were announced at a press conference held a little after 6:30pm on Friday. 

The Federal Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Flemish liberal) told the press conference that while a rise in the number of new infections and hospitalisations had not come as a surprise, the pace at which the figures are going up is greater than had been predicted. Mr De Croo cited two reasons for this. Firstly, the virus has become more infectious (due to the prevalence of the so-called “British variant”) and secondly there has been a change in our behaviour. We are meeting up with others more often, be it at work or socially and we are getting out and about more. 

He went on to say that contact tracing analysis shows that the lion’s share of infections originate in schools. Children go home infect their parents that in turn, if they are not teleworking, go on to infect colleagues in the workplace. The Federal PM stressed the importance of us all keeping our contacts to an absolute minimum. 

The message remains: "Limit your close contacts".

What has been decided?

In the light of this it has been decided that the “Outdoor Plan” that was agreed at the last meeting of the Consultative Committee and was to have seen a relaxation in the restrictions regarding outdoor activities will not come into force on 1 April. 

Measures in this plan included allowing outdoor cultural and religious activities for up to 50 participants and residential Easter holiday camps for children. 

Now children will be able to still take part in Easter camps providing they are in bubbles of no more than 10, the activities take place outside and they are taken to and collected from the camp by their parent(s) or guardian. The aim is still to allow all schools to offer 100% face to face teaching again from the start of next term. Mr De Croo said that ensuring that this can be done is a task that we all have during the coming month. 

As schools and workplaces are the primary sources of infection, it has been agreed that by Monday the Education Ministers in the governments of Belgium’s three language communities will have a plan to be enforced straight away that will thwart that transmission of the virus in schools. Mr De Croo also reminded companies that teleworking is manadatory and “not a luxury” for everyone except those for whom the nature of their job requires them to go to the workplace. 

From Monday workplace coronavirus testing of those not teleworking will take place in companies. Testing of public servants such as police officers, postal workers and fire fighters, who due to the nature of their work have a lot of contact with the public, will also be routinely carried out from Monday. 

Mr De Croo concluded by telling us that “Corona is not over”. He added that he hopes that this would be the last time that he would have to bring bad news after a meeting of the Consulative Committee. However, we hold the key. At this stage it is not only vaccination, but also (and to a large extent) our behaviour that determine the evolution of the pandemic.  

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