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Coronavirus in Belgium: The latest developments

06:01 05/05/2021
Last update: Wednesday 5 May. Recent updates are in bold

What's the latest?

Belgium is expected to be one of the countries that will participate in a pilot phase for a new European Covid certificate, which should make it easier to travel around member states this summer. The certificate provides proof of vaccination, a negative PCR test or a positive antibody test following a recent coronavirus infection. Belgium needs to join up two separate databases for the certificate to work: vaccinations are recorded in Vaccinet, while PCR test results are stored by Sciensano.

The mayor of Sint-Truiden, Limburg province, has been criticised after reportedly getting herself and several relatives vaccinated against coronavirus as early as March - at a time when only care-home residents and staff were the priority vaccination groups. "Yes, I was vaccinated in March", 56-year-old Veerle Heeren told Het Nieuwsblad. "At that time, there were quite large quantities of vaccines not administered every day because the convocation system was not fully developed and a group of healthcare providers had already been vaccinated. I assure you that we have followed closely the vaccination strategy of the authorities, establishing a number of target groups and priority lists."

Brussels fire brigade has reminded cafe and restaurant owners that their newly extended terraces must not block emergency access to any street. "We are delighted that social life in the Brussels region is gradually resuming," the fire brigade said. "The reopening of the catering terraces is an important step. Terrace extension projects cannot reduce the width of the roadway accessible to fire vehicles. The installation of these terraces also cannot hinder the access of emergency vehicles to buildings inside a block or which are not on the streetfront." Terrace furniture must be easy to move and fire hydrants should not be blocked.

All 25,000 Visit Wallonia tourism passes have been taken. The free €80 voucher was available online at 8.00 on Wednesday morning. Within 20 minutes, there were none left. Another batch will be made available towards the end of June.

Several police searches took place on Tuesday in connection with an investigation into the supply of millions of masks to Belgium by the Luxembourg-based company Avrox. Belgium bought 15 million cloth masks from the firm for nearly €32 million. Public health institute Sciensano has since recommended that they not be used.

A ministerial decree sets out the rules that must be followed when restaurants and cafes reopen their terraces this Saturday. Tables are limited to four people, except for households with more than four people. Venues can open from 8.00 to 22.00. Customers must be served at their table and staff should wear a surgical mask. It will only be possible for customers to go inside to access the toilets or pay their bill. Reservations are not required and businesses will not have to keep a log of customers' contact details. Tables should be spaced at least 1.5 metres apart.

"The third wave is now under control," said interfederal spokesman Yves Van Laethem on Tuesday. "It is up to us to keep it under control permanently. The vaccination campaign has reached its cruising speed and will further accelerate over the coming weeks."

The Brussels region will cut the gap between administering the two doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine - from 12 weeks to eight - after receiving approval from the vaccination taskforce. "This allows us to fill the appointment slots more quickly," said Inge Neven, in charge of the region's vaccination campaign. In Brussels, a record 47,023 vaccinations were carried out last week. This week it'll be 63,400, and next week 65,100. Flanders has decided to maintain a 12-week gap between AstraZeneca doses.

Brussels' 10th and final vaccination centre, at the military hospital in Neder-Over-Heembeek, has opened its doors as of Monday (3 May).

Belgium's vaccination taskforce is looking into vaccinating 16 and 17-year-olds this summer. At present, the vaccination timetable only covers over-18s. The Pfizer vaccine has received approval from the European Medicines Agency for use from the age of 16. The producer has recently submitted clinical trial results to the EMA which showed the vaccine could be effective for 12 to 15-year-olds as well. If approved, this age group could be in line to receive a jab when school resumes in September.

Meanwhile, Wallonia is speeding up its vaccination campaign, passing from 130,000 to 230,000 doses this week. Regional health minister Christie Morreale is hopeful that this figure can be almost doubled in June, with a goal of administering 400,000 vaccinations per week.

The clean-up from La Boum 2 has only just happened and organisers have already submitted a request to Brussels-Ixelles police for a third edition in the Bois de la Cambre on Saturday 29 May. L'Abîme collective, La Boum's organiser, said in its request: "Studies show that there is virtually no risk of infection outside." Interior minister Annelies Verlinden says the authorities are open to a dialogue with organisers. It has been suggested that La Boum 3 could be organised as one of the government-approved "test events" which has seen several cultural venues reopen under strict conditions. Verlinden said this was a possibility, but organisers would have to submit a formal request to be considered such an event.

Anyone in Brussels aged 46 and above can now book their coronavirus vaccination appointment via the Bruvax system. The waiting list is now open to people born from 1976 to 1980.

Musicians will take to the stage at the Forest National daily for the next two weeks to celebrate the venue's half-century. But they will play to an empty room. Some 5,000 tulips and roses will take the place of the spectators in the auditorium. Each flower can be sponsored and the money collected will be donated to a fund supporting people working in the arts and events sectors, who have been without work for most of the past year. "The goal is to help the sector to survive," said venue director Coralie Berael. The flowers will afterwards be donated to vaccination centres, where people who have received their jab will be free to pick one up. "Vaccination is our lifelinen, said Bereal. "Each person who leaves a vaccination centre is a person we hope to see returning to the auditorium."

Thalys will double the number of trains it runs from mid-May, with six return journeys to Paris each day, three to Amsterdam and one to Germany. From 21 May, the low-cost Izy service to Paris will also resume. However, this still represents just 30% of Thalys's pre-coronavirus capacity.

Staff have blockaded warehouses belonging to the supermarket chain Lidl in a protest against high workloads. Unions say the worsening work conditions pre-date coronavirus, but that the crisis has amplified the problem. Shop staff are reportedly also considering strike action over increased workloads and abuse by some customers.

Being overweight is a major risk factor leading to hospital admissions with coronavirus, according to new analysis of patient data by Sciensano from 7,662 positive test results. Since mid-February, half of patients admitted to hospital are under the age of 56. "What is evident is that being overweight is an increased factor," said interfederal spokesman Yves Van Laethem. "Obesity plays an important role, especially in people in their 20s and 30s."

The Facebook listing for "La Boum 2" in the Bois de la Cambre on Saturday has been removed, after Facebook received a request from the prosecutor's office to do so. It had attracted 27,000 likes. Less than a day later, a new event posting has appeared for the same gathering, so far attracting 2,000 participants. In a joint statement, the City of Brussels, the prosecutor's office and the Brussels-Ixelles local police force said: "We advise everyone not to participate in this event. It is important to continue to respect the health measures. If necessary, the police will intervene. You risk a fine or an administrative arrest."

The "Draw Your Circle" movement, which has been raising awareness of the plight of young people during the coronavirus shutdown, has urged police to adopt a more sympathetic and less repressive tone. "In recent statements, there has not been much empathy towards young people," the group said. "No one is listening to their frustrations and pain. We would like to see a constructive dialogue - no water cannon, no cavalry, but a dialogue."

The reopening of cafe and restaurant terraces on 8 May will go ahead as planned, as the two conditions that were set have now been met: more than 80% of over-65s have been vaccinated, and the situation in hospitals and intensive care wards has improved.

Brussels' ban on consuming alcohol in public places will only apply after 22.00 once cafes reopen on 8 May - and night shops will also be allowed to stay open until 22.00.

Pregnant women can be added to the priority list for vaccination from 4 May, Belgium's vaccination task force has confirmed. Prison officers and Olympic and Paralympic athletes will be, too. Access to the priority list is only possible via your GP. It comes after Belgium's Superior Health Council concluded that messenger RNA vaccines (those manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna) can safely be given to pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Latest trends - Wednesday 5 May

Over the past seven days

  • Average daily infections: 2,953 (-16%)
  • Total infections: 999,627
  • Test positivity rate: 7.2% (-1.7%)
  • Infection rate: 0.92
  • People vaccinated (first dose): 3.1 million
  • Average daily deaths: 37.4 (-5.1%)
  • Total deaths: 24,367
  • Average daily hospital admissions: 186.4 (-11%)
  • In hospital: 2,614 (-9%)
  • In intensive care: 795 (-11%)

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