Temper your expectations: If any easing is announced today, it will be very mild. On the other hand, it is possible that the Consultation Committee today offers some perspective to different sectors.
As Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD) emphasized on Monday, based on advice from the expert group, it is too early to introduce major easing. Despite fierce internal discussions this week between the various parties and governments of the Consultation Committee, that situation would not have fundamentally changed, according to our sources. The contamination figures, which have been rising again in recent days, do not really help.
Jean-Marc Nollet (Ecolo) unveiling this week revived the discussion about the size of the indoor social bubble. MR and Ecolo advocated revising the one-person hugging contact. However, Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke (SP.A) and the Prime Minister do not seem willing to make concessions on that front. The experts are therefore almost unanimous not to relax this. Epidemiologist Marius Gilbert explained why yesterday: “If you allow a bubble of five, people will see 10 people.” So we continue to apply a certain hypocrisy: by sticking to a very low limit, the idea remains that large gatherings or dinners among friends are out of the question.
What can change is the bubble for outdoor activities. Images of youth meetings in various places in Flanders have been circulated on social media in recent days. The Consultation Committee plans to expand the outdoor bubble from 4 contacts to 8 or 10.
As far as curfews are concerned, there is also no relaxation for the Flemish. The French speakers, however, are asking to equalize the measure. Since the start of the measure, the stricter curfew in Wallonia and Brussels has been the subject of discussion. In Flanders it starts at midnight, in Brussels and Wallonia it starts at 10 pm. For example, if you drive from Nivelles to Enghien at 10.15 pm, you are in violation on departure, as a rule in Halle, to be in error again upon arrival in Enghien.
The Walloon actors will therefore certainly put the measure on the table during the Consultation Committee. Brussels seems more reluctant to shorten the curfew, for fear of too many gatherings in the street. The Brussels Region says it wants to avoid situations like last summer, when social distance became less and less respected as the evening progressed.
Belgium can present relatively good contamination figures compared to neighboring countries, and has decided to close its borders until March 1. It was also a way of preventing the local population from moving abroad en masse, as happened in the autumn. And of course the government also wants to delay the arrival of new virus variants.
However, the travel ban and the closing of borders are under pressure from various quarters, not least from the European Union. It is possible that the ban on non-essential travel will end today, but it is equally possible that it will be enforced until the end of March and then lifted.
The MR and Ecolo in particular argue in favor of offering different sectors perspective. For example, Willy Borsus (MR) argues in the Walloon newspapers for a reopening of the catering industry at the end of March.
The culture sector will also be talking about the tongues. On Wednesday, a study sparked debate suggesting that the likelihood of contamination is higher in a supermarket than in a theater.
But the Minister of Health’s priority is education, with the full return of physical education activities to higher education. Sports activities for children under 13 may also be relaxed.
When? Minister Vandenbroucke talks about two to three weeks: the time needed to analyze the impact of the British variant, which is now the dominant mutation.