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Coronavirus in Belgium: The latest developments

05:11
Last update: Thursday 5 August. Recent updates are in bold

What's the latest?

The federal government has reached an agreement to subsidise visits to a clinical psychiatrist for anyone in Belgium whose mental health has suffered as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Patients will be able to claim up to 20 psychiatry sessions at a reduced price of €11 per session.

Brussels' mobile vaccination units, or Vacci-Buses, have set up in several municipalities this week, without the need for an appointment. The single-jab Johnson&Johnson vaccine is available at Place De Brouckère and Place de la Monnaie and at Flagey. The bus will also be visiting the Foire du Midi this Thursday afternoon (5 August). See coronavirus.brussels for the details.

Pfizer and Moderna's decision to increase the price of their coronavirus vaccines within the EU is shameful, according to KU Leuven microbiologist Emmanuel André. The Financial Times reported this week that Pfizer will charge the EU €19.50 per dose instead of €15.50, while the price for the Moderna vaccine will increase from €19 to €21.50. "To end this pandemic, we need more vaccines, quickly," André said on Twitter. "But what we are witnessing is a race for enrichment on the part of Pfizer and an accumulation of doses in countries that can pay an artificially high price."

The Belgian Competition Authority is carrying out an investigation into alleged price-fixing by supermarkets for disposable surgical masks. News of the inquiry was revealed in Carrefour's annual report, which said the investigation "concerns the exchanges between different distributors concerning the sale of protective masks to the public and to the Belgian government". The competition authority confirmed that the investigation has been ongoing since June 2020.

Since 16 June, more than 11 million Covid certificates have been issued in Belgium - half of which were via the CovidSafeBE mobile application. The certificates are needed to prove to border guards that you are fully vaccinated, have a recent negative test result or proof of antibodies. The app has been installed by 2.6 million people since its launch. From 13 August, the certificate will also be required to attend major events outdoors - and indoors from 1 September.

One of the topics on the agenda when the coronavirus consultative committee next meets in August will be the conditions in which people can safely return to the workplace. Flemish employers' organisation Voka is keen to find a legal way to gather data on whether staff are vaccinated or not. Employers cannot legally ask staff for medical details about themselves. However, a Voka spokeswoman said: "It is in the interest of the company and of all employees. As employers, we are responsible for safety and well-being in the workplace and therefore must do everything to ensure that everyone works in a safe and healthy environment."

Belgium has no plans to follow France and require a Corona pass to access leisure activities such as enjoying a meal in a restaurant or a visit to the cinema. "For major events, this makes sense but it must be temporary, only until September," said prime minister Alexander De Croo. For smaller events, De Croo added: "Our vaccination rate is much higher than in France. We do not need such measures."

With Israel and the UK planning to administer a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine later this year, what are Belgium's plans? "Currently, this is not on the agenda", said interfederal spokesman Yves Van Laethem. "Belgium has a plan from September to administer a third dose if necessary, but we do not yet have the evidence that it is needed. We are awaiting further data."

The Esperanzah music festival went ahead this weekend, as a test event without masks or distancing. Some 8,500 people attended over the two days, with proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test.

Tourism in Brussels is down by an estimated 80% - but there are some signs of hope. "We have observed that among Google searches, people are increasingly looking for tourist attractions in Brussels," said Jeroen Roppe from visit.brussels. "There is therefore a real intention to come and visit Brussels in August."

Police in Brussels were "overzealous" in their enforcement of the coronavirus restrictions during the stay-at-home period from March to June last year, according to Bertrand de Buisseret, who is in charge of municipal fines in Ixelles and who chairs a group of sanctioning officers in each of the region's 19 communes. Local police in Brussels handed out 16,000 administrative fines during this period. "In the first weeks, the police officers - not in a uniform way and not everywhere - undoubtedly had 'the easy trigger', they issued a lot of fines, many of which were not justified," de Buisseret said. "I remember people entering Ixelles were almost screened on certain days. The cars were stopped and the police asked: what are you doing? And if they were not able to explain the reason, people were fined." One mother was fined for breastfeeding her newborn baby on a bench.

From 30 July, outdoor events can be organised with up to 5,000 people attending, wearing masks, or up to 3,000 people indoors. This includes trade shows and conferences, which have been largely absent from the agenda since last spring. Youth camps are possible with up to 200 people, including the possibility of overnight stays.

The rules on shopping have also been relaxed since 30 July. The maximum number of customers per store - which was based on each shop's surface area - no longer applies. Customers should no longer be required to pick up a basket or shopping trolley on entering. However, keeping safe distances and wearing a mask remain compulsory.

A test event is being organised at Brussels Expo's Arena 5 on 8 August to see how large-scale nightlife events can be organised using the Covid Safe Ticket - and without masks or distancing. Up to 5,000 people can register to attend the 10-hour event, all of whom must be double-vaccinated or have proof of a negative PCR test within the previous 48 hours. The Covid Safe Ticket officially launches a few days later, on 13 August.

Read more about how Belgium's current coronavirus measures affect you, sector by sector, in our handy guide here, updated regularly.

Latest trends - Thursday 5 August

Over the past seven days

  • Average daily infections: 1,603 (+9%)
  • Total infections: 1,132,934
  • Test positivity rate: 3.2% (+0.4%)
  • Infection rate: 1.12 (-4%)
  • People vaccinated (first dose): 8.1 million
  • Average daily deaths: 3.1 (+57%)
  • Total deaths: 25,258
  • Average daily hospital admissions: 38.4 (+21%)
  • In hospital: 369 (+19%)
  • In intensive care: 92 (-4%)

Is there an official Belgian website to get the latest information?

There are two, in fact - www.sciensano.be and www.info-coronavirus.be - plus a freephone helpline: 0800 14 689. You can be on hold for some time.

Written by Paul McNally