"Wait until mid-May to reopen pubs and restaurants in Belgium"

Corona Commissioner Pedro Facon will advise the government's Consultative Committee to abandon the idea of reopening pubs and restaurants on 1 May (as had previously been planned) when they meet next Wednesday. Other experts like Marc Van Ranst agree with Mr Facon, but the news will come as a blow to the hospitality industry and their customers.

Pedro Facon was speaking in the daily De Tijd and confirmed his statement to the VRT news desk. Key ministers from the different regions are meeting next Wednesday to discuss which of the present restrictions can be relaxed and when. 

One thing seems certain: the schools will reopen on Monday 19 April after an extended three-week Easter break. Normally, non-essential shops should reopen one week later, as had been promised at the end of March: the present extra measures had only been installed for four weeks with PM Alexander De Croo talking of "an extended Easter break".

 But if you allow these relaxations, argues Mr Facon, it would be better to postpone the next phase until mid-May considering the fact that corona statistics are only improving slowly. 

"I am not the one to make the final decision, but reopening the schools, the shops and the hospitality industry in just two weeks' time seems a bit much to me", Mr Facon said. 

If we go too fast, the curve may go up again

Virologist Steven Van Gucht of the health institute Sciensano, who is a member of the GEMS, the body that advises the government on possible new corona restrictions or relaxations, had already said that "opening pubs and restaurants on 1 May will be a difficult choice to make", as we reported yesterday.   

Schools should enjoy priority, but politicians will have to decide about the timing for other sectors. "This timing is crucial: if we go too fast, there is a risk that statistics may shoot up again."  

When see you that figures are not improving fast, you should have the courage to reconsider your position

The renowned virologist Marc Van Ranst, who is also a member of the GEMS advisory committee, is against the idea of pubs, restaurants and cafés reopening their doors on 1 May. 

"When you see that the figures are not improving fast, you should have the courage to say that 1 May will be hard to keep, if not impossible. If you reopen schools on 19 April, it would be wise to wait a few weeks to introduce new relaxations. But it is up to politicians to make that decision." 

"Please take it step by step"

On Sunday, vaccinologist Pierre Van Damme told the VRT that he would advise "to take it step by step". He agrees that schools can reopen next Monday, but it would be wise, he says, to wait a couple of weeks to introduce further relaxations. This would allow us to see how corona figures develop, and in the meantime the vaccination strategy can gain further ground. 

He didn't rule out a reopening of restaurants and pubs, but suggests that the idea of open-air terraces should be put back on the table. 

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