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'It's like an Apple Store': Vast coronavirus vaccination centre opens at Brussels Expo
Belgium's biggest coronavirus vaccination centre, at Palais 1 on the Heysel plateau, opened for the first time on Tuesday morning.
The centre will initially be reserved for healthcare personnel who do not work in hospitals or care homes - who have therefore not yet received their Covid-19 jab.
Over-65s and people with underlying health conditions will start receiving their invitations in March.
Brussels Expo director Emin Luka said transforming the vast exhibition venue into a vaccination centre in just a few weeks had been "a real challenge".
"The big challenge was obviously time - we had very little time to be able to organise everything," he said.
"In a little less than three weeks, everything had to be ready. The second big challenge was to work with the CHU Saint-Pierre hospital and all the medical constraints that are behind the vaccination campaign."
The Brussels Expo team hit the phones last month to source all the equipment and furniture they needed.
"The seats come from Italy, the refrigerators come from Denmark. It was very complicated, but they succeeded in the challenge of finding all this material," Luca added.
The Palais 1 centre will be open six days a week at first - for eight hours a day - with a capacity to administer 1,000 vaccines per day.
When the vaccination campaign is extended to the general public, it will also open on Sundays and stay open for up to 12 hours per day, with late-night opening on Thursdays and capacity for up to 5,000 vaccinations per day.
At first, only the AstraZeneca vaccine will be administered at Brussels Expo, which requires storage at a normal refrigerator temperature. However, the venue has freezer capacity for other manufacturers' vaccines if needed.
The centre's medical coordinator, Catherine Bosmann, head nurse at CHU Saint-Pierre hospital, said of the venue: "It's like an Apple Store, but it's a vaccine store. We want the vaccination experience to be positive for people."
Visitors must stay in the venue under medical observation for up to 30 minutes after receiving their vaccine, to ensure they have no negative reaction to the jab. During this period they can take a seat in the "relaxation area", accompanied by music and light installations.
"This is something that we've really wanted to put in place," Luka added. "90% of our staff have been unemployed since March. About 40 of them have offered to work at the vaccination centre. We are very excited that they can resume work."
Photo: Eric Lalmand/Belga