Nicolas Maeterlinck

“Gluhwein has won the day from culture”

Scientists have not uniformly welcomed the decisions of Wednesday’s consultative committee.  Above all the closure of all indoor cultural venues, which the experts hadn’t sought, is courting controversy.

Virologist Marc Van Ranst, pointing to the decision to keep open outdoor Christmas markets, says mulled wine has won against culture. The expert is surprised the cultural sector is being closed, while there are no extra restrictions on hospitality.

“The measures are pretty severe if you also consider the measures introduced in recent weeks.  The experts felt above all ventilation was needed in theatres and cinemas.  We thought they could stay open”.

PM De Croo, probably with the memory of three consultative committees in as many weeks fresh in his mind, defends the decision to close cultural venues, a measure seen by many as something that could have been kept in reserve in case matters really get bad. 

“The experts’ proposal was one that would probably have led to us taking a decision today and having to revisit it next week”.

Many people are puzzled cinemas and theatres are being closed and outdoor Christmas markets can stay open.  The argument is that outside events are far safer than those indoors.

Steven Callens, professor infectious diseases at Ghent University Hospital, says Christmas markets involve greater risk than indoor cultural events, especially when there is no crowd control: “At cultural venues there are mitigating measures, masking, social distancing, limited capacity and good ventilation.  You probably won’t get many infections.  That could be different at Christmas markets, with loads of people crowded together and alcohol.  We know it’s harder to keep your distance and mask properly”.

Virologist Van Ranst is also worried more and more Dutch people will find their way to Belgian hospitality venues.

“When I saw the scenes in Antwerp, large, covered pavement cafés.  When you cover a terrace, it quickly starts to look like an indoor setting.  Hospitality that can stay open till 11PM will be eager to attract Dutch custom!”

The virologist has also noticed wide variations in compliance with the rules in hospitality and calls for greater enforcement.

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