Once it becomes law the Pandemic Bill will provide a better legal structure for the restrictions that are currently in place to curb the spread of coronavirus. It will also be able to be used if there are other pandemics in the future. The Federal Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden (Flemish Christian democrat) has spent many months working on the bill.
The current measures in force to curb the spread of coronavirus are based on the 2007 Civil Defence Bill. This was designed to enable the authorities to act quickly and effectively in the event of disasters such as a large explosion or a big fire. It was not devised to cope with pandemics such as the one that has held the country in its grip for the past 14 months. Consequently, some of the restrictions that have been in place since last March were open to challenge before the courts. Court actions against the coronavirus have had some degree of success.
The Pandemic Bill has been drafted much more with the current situation in mind. It provides for greater democratic control on any restrictions imposed. Parliament and the Constitutional Court can check whether there is sufficient balance between measures taken and their impact on people’s civil rights.
The bill will only become law once it has been passed by the Chamber of Representatives. A vote on the bill will take place on Thursday. If the opposition is able to mobilise 50 MPs (1/3 of the total) it can delay the bill by a week by having it sent for scrutiny by the Council of State. At Monday’s Committee stage, the largest opposition party the Flemish nationalist N-VA tried to stall the bill by dragging on the debate. However, this proved unsuccessful, and the bill passed its committee stage.