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Updated: Our practical guide to how Belgium's coronavirus measures affect you
What's the latest?
Belgium's CovidSafe mobile app has been updated, making it easier for possible for parents to call up a Covid certificate or test result for their children. The foreign ministry's travel advice for each EU country is now also directly accessible from the app. CovidSafeBE has so far been downloaded more than four million times.
Around 3,500 people - according to Brussels-Ixelles police estimates – peacefully demonstrated against Covid-19 restrictions in the European quarter of Brussels. The demonstrators carried hearts and messages for freedom against the obligation to vaccinate and the corona pass. They gathered in Rue de la Loi and listened to speeches before marching through the EU district. It was the second European demonstration for democracy organised by EuropeansUnited.eu in collaboration with the World Freedom Alliance.
Contamination figures continue to stabilise across Belgium – despite including the results of the first tests after the start of the school year - except in the province of Liège. It’s still experiencing a significant increase in detected cases (+19% in one week), according to RTBF. As regards hospital admissions, the past seven days have seen a rise (+ 12%), but seems to be stabilising at around 70 new ones a day. The increase is notable (+20%) in Brussels, where more than a third of Covid patients are being treated in intensive care (74 out of 219).
"We are in the final phase of the epidemic but that does not mean that it is the end," said interfederal spokesman Yves Van Leathem. In Brussels, where vaccination is lagging behind, the epidemiological situation is much worse than in Flanders or Wallonia. The disparity between regions is significant - a quarter of the country's new admissions are in Brussels and a third of all Covid patients in intensive care are in Brussels. The delta variant looms and the new school year has started this week. Currently, young people are the demographic most at risk of being infected - “20% of contaminations take place in children under 10 years," he said. "In this same age group, the number of positive tests is 11.3% while it is 5.4% for the rest of the population.” Transmission levels are therefore expected to rise with children returning to school, and we must stay vigilant about safety measures inside classrooms and workplaces, Van Laethem added. During this tense period of fending off a fourth wave, we must focus on outdoor activities, ventilation, frequent testing, and face masks when and where possible.
The King and Queen of Belgium returned to royal duties after each testing negative for Covid-19 for the second time, announced the palace. The royal couple withdrew from activities last week following a positive Covid-19 test within the royal family. According to a reliable source, it concerned one of the couple’s younger children. The King and Queen both tested negative but were obliged to cancel or postpone their official activities.
Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon warned that if there is a fourth wave, it will mainly affect the unvaccinated population. He said this week: "There will probably be a fourth wave, maybe a fifth and a sixth wave too, but that will be mainly for the non-vaccinated, and they will have to take their own responsibility."
Brussels health minister Alain Maron says the region's government is "on alert" as the coming weeks could be challenging for the healthcare system, as people return from overseas holidays and go back to school and work. "If we reach our vaccination targets, a fourth wave of hospitalisations in Brussels should be limited," Maron said.
Brussels' coronavirus incidence rate is currently more than double the national average, with 504 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the past fortnight. This compares with 234 per 100,000 nationwide. The region is likely to be classified as "dark red" on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control's coronavirus heatmap, which is updated on Thursday.
The Brussels region should prepare itself for a rise in coronavirus infection figures in September, biostatistician Geert Molenberghs has warned. New modelling carried out by the University of Hasselt suggests that if people in Brussels do not limit their contacts and get vaccinated, a new peak is on its way this autumn. He told Bruzz: "A new peak with more infections but above all more hospitalisations from September is certainly possible. But in fact, I am more concerned about the situation in Wallonia than in Brussels. Because in Brussels, people seem to be aware of the gravity of the situation. But in Wallonia, we apply the same flexibility as in Flanders, while the vaccination coverage is not at all comparable. It's very dangerous." He said Brussels' decision last week not to relax its coronavirus restrictions was a "realistic assessment of the problem".
There are more Covid patients in hospital right now in Belgium than a year ago, according to figures from Sciensano. This week last August there were 300 patients in hospital, while today there are nearly 500. This is due to a number of factors coming together, according to Sciensano scientists. The most significant issue is travel abroad in red zones and the relaxing of corona measures coupled with people who are not vaccinated or have only had one jab. According to Sciensano, less than 3% of hospital patients have been fully vaccinated. Another factor is the spread of the Delta variant, which is much more infectious than the normal coronavirus.
An MP from the Flemish N-VA party has called for an independent inquiry "to draw lessons from this health crisis and find out if each patient has ended up in the right bed". Lorin Parys obtained mortality stats for each region of Belgium, which show that 16.5% of hospitalised patients in Flanders died, compared with 20.4% in Wallonia. For patients who ended up intensive care, the mortality rate was 30.6% in Flanders, 39.6% in Brussels and 40.9% in Wallonia. "The differences between regions and between hospitals are too strong not to analyse the phenomenon," he said.
A 90-year-old Belgian woman died after testing positive for the Alpha (British) and Beta (South African) variants of coronavirus at the same time. She died in hospital in March, several days after being admitted for an illness other than Covid.
Infectious disease specialist Erika Vlieghe, who chairs the GEMS expert panel advising the government on coronavirus, has warned that the Delta variant of the virus is spreading much faster than first expected, helped by more relaxed rules over the summer, foreign travel and Euro 2020. "We will still have to be careful not to give free rein to the virus throughout the summer, otherwise we will be in trouble again," she said.
"This increase in infections is a mirror of what we have seen in Spain and the Netherlands. We expected this explosion," said interfederal spokesman Yves Van Laethem. "It's a ripple. We do not expect a wave at the moment because there is nothing to suggest it in the other countries which have the same vaccination status as us. But an increase in hospitalisations is inevitable." Keep safe distances and continuing to wear a mask remain essential, Van Laethem added.
A new phase in Belgium's "summer plan" to ease coronavirus restrictions has come into force. Up to eight people can meet indoors, have a meal or drink, or go on holiday together. Children under 12 are not counted. Cafes, restaurants and night shops can stay open until 1.00. Cafe terraces can have tables less than 1.5 metres apart if they use a plexiglass screen and customers can use gaming machines again, provided they wear a mask. Banquets and receptions can be organised, following the same rules as those for cafes and restaurants. Shopping can be done in groups again. Remote work is no longer compulsory. Up to 200 people can attend a church service indoors. Sports clubs can reopen their changing rooms and showers. The coronavirus consultative committee meets again on 16 July.
The Delta variant of coronavirus is "becoming dominant in Belgium", says microbiologist Emmanuel André. "The epidemic in our country has been massively changed by a limited number of people who have probably not tested and quarantined [on return from abroad]." Interfederal spokesman Yves Van Laethem added: "There is a slow but sure increase in the Delta variant which is currently the basis of almost a quarter of new contaminations."
Wearing a mask in the workplace will remain compulsory until at least October, Het Nieuwsblad reported at the weekend. Several politicians, including Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon, are keen to see the requirement lifted. "We want to remain extremely cautious," a spokesman said, "especially now that many people are returning from travel and schools are going to reopen. Further relaxations are looming and, as a result, new possibilities for the transmission of the virus. We therefore prefer to err on the side of caution in the workplace."
The rules on mask-wearing will be reassessed with the coronavirus consultative committee next meets. Until then, it remains compulsory for over-12s in stores and shopping centres, conference facilities, university lecture halls, libraries, places of worship, on public transport and in railway stations, as well as in cafes and restaurants when moving around.
After months of wearing facemasks outdoors, interfederal spokesman Yves Van Laethem has confirmed what we suspected: there is no reason to wear one outside when there are few people around, unless you having a close face-to-face conversation with someone. Brussels' outdoor mask requirement is lifted this Wednesday. In enclosed places, such as public transport and shops, it remains compulsory.
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.
The Brussels municipality of Etterbeek has decided to reintroduce compulsory mask-wearing in some busy shopping streets. When the region-wide mask requirement was lifted, leaving municipalities free to set their own rules, Etterbeek took a lenient approach. "The rebound we are experiencing today is greater than what we experienced in January after the Christmas holidays," said mayor Vincent De Wolf. "And with the sales there are a lot of people in shopping streets. I know that it is not cheerful, that everyone is fed up with it but it is a useful effort." Masks are now compulsory again around La Chasse, Place Jourdan and the Rue des Tongres.
The lifting of Brussels' region-wide facemask requirement means each municipality is now free to set its own rules. In Brussels-City, masks are only compulsory on one street: Rue Neuve. A few other municipalities have so far published their list of applicable streets - Forest, Schaerbeek, Saint-Josse, Molenbeek, Koekelberg and Evere. Ganshoren and Anderlecht will not require masks on any streets. Other mayors contacted by Le Soir said they did not plan to publish a list, instead relying on residents' "common sense". Check your municipality's website to be certain.
Belgium's "outdoor plan" came into force on 8 May. The reopening of cafe and restaurant terraces went 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. According to small business union SNI, 62% of cafe and restaurants reopened their terraces on 8 May.
The regional and federal governments have officially agreed that regions can choose to require the Corona Safe Ticket to access services. This paves the way for the Brussels Capital-Region to require the barcode to go to a restaurant, bar or nightclub, even if the other regions do not. It is highly likely that Brussels will required the Covid Safe Ticket to access these services, and possibly others, from 1 October. The issue will be discussed at the next meeting of the Consultative Committee on 17 September. “The figures in Brussels are not good so we need to have the ability to do this,” minister-president Rudi Vervoort told VRT. “Customers would be checked when they order or want to enter, just like happens now at a football stadium or event hall.”
Vilvoorde mayor Hans Bonte (Vooruit) wants restaurants, bars and fitness clubs in his city to require a Covid Certificate from customers. Brussels and federal authorities are discussing the possibility of making customers show proof of vaccination (or a recent negative test or proof of a previous infection) before being allowed in, and Bonte wants municipal councils to be able to apply the measure in their own cities if they feel they need to. Like many municipalities in the Brussels periphery, Vilvoorde is lagging behind in the vaccination rate (about 80% for adults) compared to Flanders as a whole (more than 92%).
With further use of the Covid Certificate, known in Belgium as the Covid Safe Ticket, coming into force on 1 October in the Brussels region, there are calls for it to also be applied to the nightlife sector. Brussels by Night founder Lorenzo Serra said: “We’re clearly asking for the use of the Covid Safe Ticket and made this known at the beginning of June. We quickly understood that we wouldn't open without it, since the use of the sanitary pass stops the super contaminators at the door." Despite some clubs going out of business during the 18 month closure and fewer tourists visiting the city, Serra said his confidence was boosted by the high attendance at outdoor events last weekend.
Some restaurant and bar workers in Brussels have become rather lax in wearing facemasks. Both customers and federation Horeca Brussel have seen many more facemasks tucked under chins, pulled under noses and worn as an armband this month. Fabien Hermans of Horeca Brussel says he wishes police were still patrolling in the establishments, but the police say it’s no longer a priority. Virologist Marc Van Ranst confirmed that facemasks were still a useful tool in slowing the spread of the virus. “One-third of all patients in intensive care are residents of Brussels,” he said. “That is a disproportionately high number.”
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."
Saint-Gilles has voted to grant a special one-off grant to the municipality's 400 cafe and restaurant owners to compensate them for proven loss of turnover during the coronavirus shutdowns. Venues with up to a 40% decline in revenue will receive €500. Those losing more than 60% of their takings will be given €1,100.
A 48-page health protocol has been drawn up for cafe and restaurant owners as they prepare to welcome customers indoors from 9 June. Up to four people can sit up to the table, unless part of a bigger family living under the same roof (children up to 12 do not count). If there are fabric tablecloths, they must be removed after each sitting and washed at 60°C. There should be no salt and pepper shakers or bread baskets on the table - and menus should be hung on the wall or made available online. Venues must close by 22.00 indoors and 23.00 on the terrace. They must also install an air quality measuring device, visible to the public. If the CO2 concentration exceeds 900ppm, the venue must find better ventilation. Readings above 1200ppm could lead to a restaurant or cafe being shut down. A website with more information has been set up at www.corona-ventilation.be
Federal health minister Frank Vandenbroucke says Belgium should not make "empty promises" by suggesting that nightclubs can reopen soon, or that cafes can further extend their opening hours. "I have no desire to implement yo-yo policies," he said - referring to a pre-mature relaxation of the rules, only for them to have to be tightened again later. He said only 40% of the population was so far fully vaccinated and now is not yet the time to "fully take off the brakes".
Anecdotal evidence from some cafe and restaurant owners suggests the requirement to eat and drink outdoors has led to an increase in the number of customers walking off without paying. Some restaurant workers in Tournai, interviewed by Nord Eclair newspaper, said they were losing between 5% and 10% of their turnover from this form of theft. Many are now requiring payment up-front.
A ministerial decree sets out the rules that must be followed when restaurants and cafes reopen their terraces. 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. It's also been confirmed that customers are allowed to enter a restaurant or cafe briefly to access a terrace at the back. You cannot head indoors if it starts to rain in the middle of your meal or drink.
The use of plexiglass between cafe tables is banned. Some venues had hoped to space their tables less than 1.5m apart by separating them with a screen to stop aerosols spreading from one table to the next. The protocol sent to cafe owners, setting out the rules for reopening, even mentioned plexiglass (at least 1.8 metres high) - but this was an error, copied over from the rules when cafes last reopened in summer 2020. Brussels-City alderman for commerce Fabian Maingain said the mix-up was "amateurish". "We are not going to comply with it," said Ghent mayor Mathias De Clercq.
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.
Ostend will reinstate its beach registration system this summer, to manage the influx of tourists to its most popular stretches of coast. Reservations will be free and only necessary on the busiest days. The system is not just for daytrippers and holidaymakers, but also Ostend residents. The sand sculpture festival is not taking place this summer, in order to create extra space for sitting on the beach. Mayor Bart Tommelein said: "This summer, thanks to the success of the vaccination campaign, much more will be possible, but we need to take into account, however, that there will still be some restrictions. The response to our reservation system was very positive last year. We were able to guarantee respect for social distancing and the resulting sense of security for Ostend residents and visitors."
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."
Visit Wallonia is working with mobile operator Orange to set up a free tool showing in real time how busy each tourist attraction in the region is. The service will be based on anonymised mobile phone data.
The Brussels Hotels Association is launching a new promotional campaign, offering employees in the hotel sector the opportunity to offer "mates' rates" to their friends for a summer break in the capital. "If you know someone who works in the hotel sector, this is the opportunity to make contact with them again," a spokesman said. "This person can book you a room in Brussels at reduced prices." The campaign runs until 31 August. See www.contactrapproche.brussels
It's been a disastrous summer so far for hotels in Brussels. Those that have managed to stay open are reporting occupancy rates of just 20% on average, according to the Brussels Hotels Association.
The SNCB is preparing to introduce its Coast Express reservation system for certain trains to the seaside in July and August, after a successful trial earlier this month. Security guards will be more present in busy stations to ensure trains are not overcrowded. The SNCB will maintain contact with local police zones on the coast, informing them of how many passengers are heading to each destination.
The expert panel advising the government on its coronavirus measures has recommended compulsory vaccination not just for healthcare workers, but also teachers, hairdressers and waiters in pubs and restaurants. The GEMS panel has submitted a list of recommended high-risk contact professions, including meat-packers and sports coaches. The experts say an awareness campaign should target these professions first, and compulsory vaccination should only come later if it is deemed necessary.
Making vaccinations compulsory is a theoretical debate, said Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD) in an interview with Le Soir on Saturday. “How are you practically going to do it? You’re going to set up control points in the street? And what if people refuse to get vaccinated, are you going to put them in prison?” De Croo pointed out that measures in Belgium were less restrictive than in other countries thanks to vaccination – “we are in the top three in Europe” – and that he believed in the corona pass in Brussels “even if I’m not a fan”. The prime minster said that this Friday’s Consultative Committee would tackle rules about mask wearing and that he was in favour of easing them. "There are plenty of places, businesses, public places, where the mask is no longer really necessary." But infectious disease specialist Erika Vlieghe responded that it was too early to abolish mask wearing when speaking on the TV programme De Zevende Dag (VRT) on Sunday. She called the idea “irresponsible,” adding, “our society is not yet ready for this”.
A member of staff of the Joint Community Commission (Cocom), which is co-ordinating the Covid vaccine campaign in Brussels, has falsified the vaccine status of some of their acquaintances. “It means that these people were registered as vaccinated, even though they were not, and received a Covid Certificate,” said Cocom in a statement. “This poses a serious threat to public health.” Cocom has fired the employee and is considering filing a police report. The falsification is also dangerous for the people in question as it will lead health-care workers to assume they are vaccinated and therefore downplay coronavirus symptoms.
People will soon be able to get vaccinated in two Brussels train stations and in the Train World Museum in Schaerbeek. Starting next week, vaccination centres will be set up in Brussels Central, Brussels South and in the museum. Schaerbeek is also opening a temporary vaccination site in the CPAS office at Blvd Auguste Reyers 70. Residents of the municipality can get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine – which only requires one jab – at CPAS between 13 and 17 September. Brussels continues to lag behind in the vaccination rate, with only 65% of the adult population vaccinated, compared to 92% in Flanders and 81% in Wallonia.
A few hundred people marched from Cinquantenaire Park to the RTBF building in Brussels in protest at a possible vaccination requirement for health-care and nursing home workers. The group demands that broadcasters RTBF and RTL stop delivering such consistent news about the need to get vaccinated, saying they are simply mouthpieces for the government and pharmaceutical industry. “We have the right to be informed by someone other than propagandists,” said a protester in a speech.
The coronavirus vaccine uptake in Belgium is lacking as some vaccine sceptics continue to evade getting jabbed. Sociologist Renaud Maes interviewed 25 young people in Molenbeek about their hesitations and uncovered more personal and complex lines of reasoning than the expected anti-vax conspiracies. He observed a "mistrust vis-à-vis doctors" as one interviewee recalled their uncle getting arrested upon leaving the hospital as something was not in order with his legal documents. Maes also documented a cynical nihilism along the lines of "even if I am sick, even if I die, in the end, it does not matter". Some reasons also included uncertainty about health insurance and generally postponing healthcare issues. We need to relay information and communication about healthcare and the vaccine more effectively, as well as build confidence in our communities, he concluded.
Retail federation Comeos is working with Brussels' Common Community Commission (Cocom) on a large-scale vaccination campaign in shops, which began on Monday and will run for the next month. The single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is available at Primark in Ixelles (Wednesday to Friday), Action in Molenbeek (Monday to Thursday), Ikea Anderlecht (Friday and Saturday) and Action Anderlecht and Carrefour Evere and Auderghem (Monday to Friday). No appointment is necessary.
A major push to vaccinate teenagers in Brussels will get under way as soon as the new school year begins on Wednesday, with the help of the Common Community Commission (Cocom). Some 24% of young people aged 12-17 are fully vaccinated in Brussels, compared with 56% in Wallonia and 77% in Flanders. "We must first answer students' questions because a lot of false information is circulating on social networks and it is important to be able to respond to students with scientists and doctors," said Francophone education minister Caroline Désir. After a one-week awareness campaign, vaccination sessions will start to be organised in schools. Parental authorisation is required up to the age of 15. Désir said compulsory vaccination of teaching staff "cannot be ruled out", adding: "In Brussels, the room for improvement is immense and we can still do a lot of awareness-raising, without obligation, at this stage."
Brussels residents can get vaccinated against coronavirus in various shops from next Monday, in the latest phase of the region's vaccination strategy, which will also target churches, sports clubs, businesses and schools. The "vacci-bus" will be parked outside Ikea in Anderlecht and several branches of discount retailer Action. Mobile vaccination units will also be set up in the Carrefour hypermarkets in Evere and Auderghem, and the Chaussée d'Ixelles branch of Primark. The goal is to administer 16,000 first doses of the vaccine per week. "If we achieve that, by the end of October we will have vaccinated 65% of the Brussels population," said the region's health minister Alain Maron. "This will allow us to avoid saturating the hospital system."
Brussels' Common Community Commission, Cocom, has come up with a range of ways to reach parts of the population who are more reluctant to get vaccinated. The health body is working with social media influencers, religious leaders and running campaigns on TV and radio channels targeting various ethnic and foreign-language groups including Arabel and Maghreb TV - and on the popular dating app Tinder. "A quarter of Brussels residents do not have a GP," a Cocom spokeswoman said. "In the Matongé district, we spent six weeks in the field. We made posters in the different languages. We spoke with traders, hairdressers and local associations."
Some 5,000 people in Wallonia who were vaccinated with the first dose of the Astra Zeneca vaccine have not yet received their second dose. The region is organising catch-up sessions on 23 and 30 August. The list of centres participating in the initiative can be found at jemevaccine.be
Belgium's vaccination taskforce has recommended that people with a weakened immune system receive a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine. This group includes people suffering from leukemia and other cancers, people who are HIV-positive, and patients awaiting an organ transplant. The third dose will be a messenger RNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) and invitations should be sent out from September.
Brussels has to do more to reach out to residents with a migrant background in order to improve the vaccination rate, according to Marc Noppen, head of UZ Brussel, the hospital associated with VUB. Only 62% of adults in Brussels have received at least one jab, while in Wallonia the figure is 79% and in Flanders 90%. The figures among minors are much are worse, with only 20% of 12- to 17-year-olds in Brussels getting a jab, compared to 50% in Wallonia and 70% in Flanders. “It’s difficult to reach some of these communities,” Noppen said in the programme Terzake. “They don’t follow the media here. They get their information on the internet or via WhatsApp groups.” He pointed to a study carried out into the difference in the vaccination rates – which are affecting other large, multicultural cities in Europe as well. The researchers of the study “suggest that we go directly to these citizens rather than waiting for them to show up at a vaccination centre. The second suggestion is that we make life more difficult for those who are not vaccinated. If they can get back to normal life, they will get vaccinated.”
About 1,000 Brussels residents who were vaccinated against Covid-19 abroad have been registered in the local system as vaccinated. Authorities are encouraging anyone who lives in the capital who was vaccinated elsewhere to register so they will have a more accurate gauge of the vaccination rate. “About one-third of Brussels residents are citizens of other countries or have dual citizenship,” said Inge Neven of the Brussels health and welfare agency. “So they can get vaccinated in other countries, but they can’t always get an EU Covid certificate there.” Neven thinks that many more than 1,000 people have been vaccinated abroad and asks that anyone who has register their vaccination with their doctor in Brussels.
The largest vaccination centre in Brussels – at the expo centre in Heysel – has now closed. Yesterday was the final day to get a vaccination at the centre, which is one of many sites closing in Brussels and across the country, as the vaccination campaign winds down. Brussels will close an additional five of its remaining nine vaccination sites by the end of the month. Centres in Forest, Pacheco, Woluwe-Saint-Pierre and Molenbeek will remain open beyond that.
The first major phase of coronavirus vaccination in Belgium is coming to an end, with the majority of vaccination centres preparing to close in the coming weeks. In Wallonia, 15 of the current 52 centres will remain open. In Brussels, the Pachéco centre and the military hospital at Neder-Over-Heembeek will continue to vaccinate those who have not yet had their jab.
ULB's Solbosch campus will open a vaccination centre from 15 September for students and staff who have not been able to get vaccinated during the summer holidays. Until then, a Vacci-Bus mobile vaccination unit is visiting the campus one day a week, with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is accessible not just to students, but residents of Ixelles in general.
In Brussels, 50% of 18 to 44-year-olds have received a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine so far and 41% are fully vaccinated. Brussels' Common Community Commission (Cocom) says reaching younger people is a challenge. Anyone in Brussels aged 12+ can book a vaccination appointment via www.bru-vax.brussels or by calling 02 214 19 19.
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."
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."
Some 180,000 Brussels residents under 35 have not yet been vaccinated, according to the latest stats from the Common Community Commission (Cocom). Some 314,000 people aged 18-34 in Brussels have been invited for the vaccine, but only 44% have so far received their first dose. Last week, nearly 60,000 injections were administered in Brussels, of which more than 48,000 were second doses.
A group of parents have filed a joint legal claim in Namur demanding that parental authorisation should be compulsory for 16 and 17-year-olds before they can be vaccinated. At present, only children aged 12-15 need permission from their parents or guardian before getting the jab - 16-17s are free to decide for themselves. The parents' lawyer argues that this age group cannot give "free and informed consent" because they have not been given enough information. "The invitation letters are addressed to the young people and not to their parents," added the lawyer, who believes candidates for the vaccine should talk to their doctor first.
Health authorities in each of Belgium's regions have confirmed that anyone who missed their vaccination appointment due to the recent flooding can make a new appointment immediately, without waiting for a new invitation to be sent out. In Wallonia, they can call 0800 45 019. In Brussels, the number is 02 214 19 19. In Flanders, it's 078 78 78 50.
Most of Brussels' vaccination centres will gradually close later this summer, with only the centres in Forest, Woluwe-Saint-Pierre and Boulevard Pachéco staying open. More localised vaccination campaigns, using a bus, will continue. The biggest vaccination centre, at Heysel, will its final batch of first doses on 17 July and will close on 10 August. The military hospital at Neder-Over-Heembeek will stop vaccinating in mid-August, with Uccle, Molenbeek, Schaerbeek, Woluwe-Saint-Lambert and Anderlecht following in late August.
In order to reach 70% vaccine coverage in Brussels by September, about 50,000 inhabitants per week need to have their first shot. Last week there were 29,000 and this week 22,500. A vaccination bus will tour several Brussels neighbourhoods, offering mobile jabs without an appointment for those less able to travel to a vaccination centre. On Thursday and Friday, the bus will be on Rue Jules Lahaye in Jette from 10.00 to 17.00, offering the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. "The intention is to expand this type of campaign much more to other municipalities from mid-July and to increase the vaccination rate," said Inge Neven, in charge of the vaccination campaign at Brussels' Common Community Commission (Cocom). It is expected that some vaccination centres will close at the end of August, including Schaerbeek and Woluwe-Saint-Lambert. Anyone who has yet to receive their second dose by then will be directed to another centre.
Belgium's Superior Health Council has given its approval for the vaccination of 12 to 15-year-olds. All Brussels residents aged 12-15 should receive a letter next week inviting them to book a vaccination appointment. They will receive the Pfizer vaccine - the only one that has received authorisation so far for this age group from the European Medicines Agency. Parental consent is required.
The "vast majority" of vaccination centres are now making it possible for people's second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine to be brought forward by four weeks. It comes after AstraZeneca made a substantial delivery of 700,000 vaccine doses this week. Some 800,000 Belgian residents are awaiting their second injection of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The gap between doses is now eight weeks instead of 12. In Wallonia, rescheduling an appointment will be possible online from Friday, or you can call 0800 45 019. In Brussels, people who can benefit from a shorter gap between vaccines have already been notified by SMS and can reschedule their second appointment by calling 02 214 19 19. In Flanders, check www.laatjevaccineren.be
General practitioners in Brussels can now offer their patients the coronavirus vaccine at their surgery, it has been announced. The move is part of a bigger strategy by the Common Community Commission (Cocom) to move away from mass vaccination centres towards a more decentralised and local approach, in the hope of reaching vulnerable parts of the population that have so far not come forward to get their vaccine. GPs can order vaccines through the Bru-Vax platform.
Belgium has administered more than 10 million coronavirus vaccine doses and 72.5% of adults have had at least their first dose. In Brussels, 52% of over-18s have had at least one dose. From Thursday (1 July), Brussels residents can turn up to any of the region's 10 vaccination centres without an appointment between 10.00 and 15.00 and get vaccinated. Belgium is due to receive 1.74 million doses this week.
The Bru-Vax vaccination booking platform in Brussels will make it possible for users to choose the single-jab Johnson and Johnson vaccine. The Brussels region had originally planned to reserve its Johnson & Johnson doses for vulnerable people including the homeless. It is now available to the general public. They will be considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the dose - handy for anyone in a hurry to go abroad.
The Brussels region is planning to organise other walk-in vaccination sessions without an appointment, after this week's experiment in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre. "We are considering organising late-night openings in other centres," said a spokeswoman for the Cocom. "We are also thinking about a vaccination marathon."
Brussels' coronavirus vaccination centres have been told to show compassion and common sense if a mother brings her newborn baby with her to the vaccine appointment. RTBF reports that one mother was turned away from the Heysel vaccination centre, despite explaining that she needed to stay with her one-month-old baby to breastfeed. She rebooked her appointment for the following day and was almost turned away again. Staff wanted to know who would look after the baby if the mother had an allergic reaction to the jab. A Cocom spokeswoman said: "While we advise people to come alone to be vaccinated, this is not always possible. We are asking Brussels' vaccination centres to be flexible. We must not create an unnecessary hurdle."
Police have arrested two workers at a vaccination centre in Pepinster, who are suspected of corruption. The pair are accused of offering unvaccinated people a document proving they have been vaccinated, in return for a €200 payment. They face charges of forgery and computer fraud.
Saint-Josse will keep its municipal vaccination unit open until at least 13 July. So far 1,296 people have used the centre, which was set up to encourage people to get vaccinated locally, as the municipality had one of the lowest vaccine take-up rates in the Brussels region. Saint-Josse has now gone from having 19% of adults vaccinated in early May to 64% a month later.
Brussels' Common Community Commission (Cocom), which organises the region's vaccination campaign, is carrying out a multilingual awareness-raising campaign in collaboration with the municipality of Saint-Gilles, where vaccine takeup is notably lower than other parts of the city. Similar initiatives have already been carried out in Saint-Josse, Molenbeek and Anderlecht. A local vaccination unit has been set up at the Four Seasons School on Place Bethlehem. If you live locally and it's your turn for a jab, call them on 0800 35 176.
Wallonia has decided to no longer offer people the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine as a first dose. This is for vaccine planning purposes: the relatively small reserve of AstraZeneca doses that the region has available, and forthcoming deliveries, will be set aside as second doses. This is to ensure that 359,000 people who have already received their first jab are guaranteed a second jab on time. While the AstraZeneca vaccine is just as effective as others being administered in Belgium, supply schedules have been slightly less reliable.
There are currently 27,000 people on the Brussels waiting list for vaccination, according to the latest Cocom figures. So far, 688,405 doses have been administered in the Brussels region. This week, 69,000 jabs are scheduled, and 74,000 the following week. Some 78% of Brussels residents over 65 are now vaccinated.
Belgium's health ministers have agreed to open up the coronavirus vaccination programme to 16 and 17-year-olds this summer, once all over-18s have been offered the jab. In Brussels, at-risk patients aged 16 and 17 will start being invited to get vaccinated from this week. Parental consent is not required. Currently, only the Pfizer/BioNTech has been approved for use among this age group.
Since the coronavirus vaccination campaign began, 478,000 first doses have been administered in Brussels. But about a quarter of those went to people who are not resident in the Brussels region. In some cases, this was intentional: care-home and medical staff, for example, who work in Brussels but live across the border in Flanders or Wallonia were vaccinated in the capital. But there have also been cases of fraud: people registering on the Bru-Vax website with a fake postcode, which was not checked. According to public health institute Sciensano, the reverse - Brussels residents getting vaccinated in another region - has not occurred. Brussels health minister Alain Maron is trying to negotiate a reallocation of future doses, to make up for those "lost" to non-residents.
The European Medicines Agency has granted Pfizer approval to expand the production and packaging facilities at its plant in Puurs, Antwerp province. The EMA said this would have a "significant and immediate impact" on vaccine supply throughout the European Union. The agency said Pfizer's Belgian plant had been "consistently producing high-quality vaccines" - and the volume of vaccines produced there could now be increased.
Belgium has stopped administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to people under 41 following the death of a woman in her 30s from blood clots after being vaccinated at the embassy where she worked.
Wallonia will begin a promotional push to encourage the remaining over-50s in the region to book their vaccination appointment without further delay. This can be done by calling 0800 45 019. Speedy appointments are available at three vaccination centres where there are surplus doses until 2 June: Mons Expo, Namur Expo and Pepinster.
Belgium's vaccination campaign is suffering from a lack of visibility in terms of delivery dates by some suppliers. Johnson & Johnson has said it can only deliver 900,000 of the 1.4 million vaccines it had initially promised by the end of June. AstraZeneca will deliver 335,000 doses next Monday, several days late, when 374,000 had been expected. Pfizer's next batch will be 656,000 instead of 733,000. The majority of vaccine appointments are currently for second doses. Moderna, meanwhile, has confirmed its delivery schedule up until the end of July.
The Brussels municipalities where vaccination take-up is the lowest will offer face-to-face help at the town hall for anyone having trouble registering on the Bruvax website. Regional minister for digital transition, Bernard Clerfayt, said there was a digital divide which meant people from various age groups and ethnic backgrounds risked being left behind. Help will be made available in Saint-Josse, Saint-Gilles, the City of Brussels, Schaerbeek, Molenbeek and Koekelberg.
More than 70% of Belgium's 1.5 million "at-risk" residents have received at least their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, the vaccination taskforce has confirmed. Most of the remaining invitations have been sent out, with just 6,000 still to go. It is possible to check whether you are in an at-risk category via the website www.myhealthviewer.be. Underlying health conditions include heart, kidney, liver or respiratory disease, high blood pressure, cancer, obesity, diabetes or dementia. Pregnant women can also be added to the priority vaccination list, via their GP or gynecologist.
Belgium has begun vaccinating asylum seekers. Federal migration agency Fedasil has been carrying out awareness campaigns in several languages among residents of the country's asylum centres. Staff are being vaccinated at the same time.
People who have recently been infected with coronavirus should still be given two doses of the vaccine, Belgium's Superior Health Council has ruled. France has opted for a single injection if patients have already had the virus. According to ULB immunologist Michel Goldman: "If you have already contracted Covid, the second dose will not give you additional protection. Studies indicate that." However, Sabine Stordeur, co-leader of Belgium's vaccination task force, said: "Even if an individual has developed very high levels of antibodies, we are not sure of optimal protection."
Accessibility changes have been made this week at Forest vaccination and testing centre. People visiting for a test will still enter and leave via Avenue Jupiter, while people being vaccinated will instead use a side entrance and exit on Chaussée d'Alsemberg.
Belgium has committed to buy additional doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine over the next two years, to be used for children and as follow-up booster doses for adults. The country has committed to a contract between the European Commission and the pharmaceutical firm. The total European order is for 900 million extra doses. Flemish health minister Wouter Beke said: "This makes it possible to have a suitable vaccine within four months in the event of new variants."
The Brussels region has begun vaccinating homeless people since this week. About 5,000 people without stable accommodation will be vaccinated over the coming four months.
The Brussels municipalities of Molenbeek and Saint-Josse have begun administering coronavirus vaccines in their town hall, in an attempt to reach people who cannot easily travel to the nearest vaccination centre. Municipal staff are approaching people at local markets, advising them of the new local possibility to get vaccinated. The municipalities have among the lowest vaccine take-up rates in the Brussels region - and many residents are not even registered with a local doctor.
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.
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.
Wallonia and Flanders have both entered "phase 2" of their vaccination campaigns - the general public. People aged 18-65 will receive an invitation to get vaccinated. The letters are being sent out in descending age order.
Flanders is spending significantly less on its vaccination campaign than Wallonia and Brussels, according to a new report by the Flemish Inspectorate of Finances. Belgium's three regions foot the bill for 20% of the vaccination effort, with the federal government making up the remaining 80%. On a per-dose basis, Flanders is spending €9.66, Brussels €13.71 and Wallonia €22.42. According to De Standaard, nursing staff are paid more in Wallonia and Brussels.
Several thousand residents of Flanders and Wallonia have jumped the queue and been vaccinated in Brussels by giving a false postcode on the Bruvax website. Brussels is vaccinating people aged 41+ at the moment, while the other regions have only just started vaccinating under-65s. Bruvax requires two pieces of data: your national register number and postcode, but workers at vaccination centres rarely cross-reference to the two. "It is no longer worth trying the trick now," said Inge Neven, who runs the Brussels vaccination campaign. "We will systematically scan the identity cards before proceeding with the injection of the first dose." Those who cheated and received their first dose in this way will still be allowed to have their second dose in Brussels on time. Brussels will ask for the vaccine distribution in the coming weeks to be recalculated to take into account the lost doses which should have gone to Brussels residents.
From 27 June, the limits on outdoor gatherings (including demonstrations) will be lifted entirely. Indoors, it will be possible to invite up to eight people to your home (instead of four). Cafes and restaurants can have up to eight people at a table, and can stay open until 1.00 (currently 23.30). The same 1.00 closing time applies to night shops. Cultural events are limited to 2,000 people indoors and 2,500 outdoors. Weddings, funerals and other religious ceremonies will be possible with up to 200 attendees indoors and 400 outdoors. Shopping in a group will be allowed again. Also from 27 June, working from home moves from being compulsory to recommended.
The federal crisis centre has issued some reminders on how to safely watch the Euro 2020 football tournament this summer. At a publicly organised event, up to 400 people are allowed outdoors (200 indoors) - but you should stay in groups of four and keep a 1.5-metre distance from other groups. If a venue serves food or drink, you must remain seated. You can watch matches in your living room with a maximum of four people, or in your garden with up to 50 people.
The night-time curfew in Belgium has been lifted. The curfew in Brussels until now had been from 22.00-6.00. Elsewhere in Belgium, it had been from midnight-5.00. Instead of the curfew, there is now a ban on meeting up in groups of more than three, between midnight and 5.00.
Federal health minister Frank Vandenbroucke has spoken for the first time about a possible return to a near-normal way of life this autumn. He told Bel RTL: "I hope that during the next consultative committee, next Tuesday, we will be able to outline a plan to return to normal life, gradually, step by step, from here to, let's say, around September-October." But he added: Obviously, the fight against the virus is not yet won. Vaccination is progressing but the virus is still there. If we want to have a good summer, if we want to reopen normal life step by step, we must still be very careful in the coming weeks." Vandenbroucke has also urged people not to "ruin the summer" by taking too many risks now. "We are in a risky period," he said. "The vaccination campaign has not reached the point where we are protected."
According to Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon, it will be possible from 9 June to organise a garden party with up to 50 people in your home. Until now, the rules suggested that such an event could only be organised if a professional caterer was in charge. "Caterer or not caterer, it doesn't matter," Jambon said. "The protocol that applies today to terraces will also apply to events in gardens. This means, among other things, four people per table and sufficient distance between the tables." CD&V party president Joachim Coens said there was a lack of clarity in how the measures have been communicated. Virologist Erika Vlieghe is also not impressed by Jambon's announcement: "I really wonder how such a garden party with 50 people will work. It seems like every day a new measure is announced. An outdoor bubble of 10 people shouldn't suddenly turn into groups of 50 people."
Liège has lifted the access restrictions for the city's parks that have been in force since March. Stewards were counting visitor numbers at La Boverie and the Botanical Garden, after several large gatherings, and had banned access outright in the evening.
The rules on mask-wearing in schools will be relaxed in Wallonia when classes resume on 1 September, but not in French-speaking schools in the Brussels region, due to significant differences in vaccination rates. In Wallonia, staff must wear masks in corridors and other common areas but can remove it in class. Teachers in Brussels must still wear their mask while teaching. Secondary school pupils will have to wear a mask during lessons in Brussels, but not in Wallonia. In Flanders, pupils in the last two years of primary schools will no longer have to wear a mask.
Flanders has called for the rules on quarantine for schoolchildren to be relaxed. "Far too many children are missing school because we are being too cautious," said the region's education minister Ben Weyts. "I understand that we want to be careful, but we have to think of the children." Under the current rules, if a teacher or at least two pupils test positive, the entire class is sent home.
Public health institute Sciensano has updated its guidance on class closures and quarantine in schools and creches. "If a child in a nursery, primary or secondary school has Covid-19, the other children in the class as well as the teacher are considered low-risk contacts. These should only be tested if they show symptoms and should not be quarantined. They can therefore continue their education and other activities. However, they should avoid contact with people who are at high risk of developing Covid-19, such as grandparents," the guidance states. If there is more than one infection in the class, or if a teacher's test is positive, it may be necessary to quarantine the entire class.
Interfederal spokesman Yves Van Laethem has urged parents and summer youth camp organisers to have children tested for coronavirus before attending. "There have been some transmission problems in a number of camps," he said. "Organisers and parents try as much as possible to do rapid antigen testing, before the start of the camp." Health minister Frank Vandenbroucke agrees: "It is better to have a child disappointed not to participate in his camp, than a whole camp interrupted after two or three days." As of 23 July, Belgium's federal crisis centre will stop giving regular press conferences on the pandemic.
Francophone education minister Caroline Désir is hopeful that schools can resume as normal in September without any need for masks. The plan is to return to class under "code green", meaning all extra-curricular activities and parents' meetings can go ahead as before. "Although masks would no longer be compulsory, the instructions for ventilation of the premises and hand washing will however still apply," Désir said. A final decision will be made on 20 August, based on the latest figures and the potential spread of more contagious variants over the summer holidays.
Any Belgian resident who has not yet had the chance to be fully vaccinated is now eligible for two free PCR tests, for travel purposes or to attend an event that requires proof of a negative test result. This can be done via your personal account on masante.belgium.be. The code is valid for 10 days - so don't request one until you know you'll need it.
After months of running just one return journey per day between London and Brussels, Eurostar will increase train frequencies on the route from 6 September. The cross-Channel rail operator has seen a surge in demand since the UK lifted its entry requirements for vaccinated EU residents. There will be three London-Brussels return trips on the timetable from September to November.
The Brussels region is making coronavirus testing free for all residents until 15 September, to encourage people to get tested after the summer break. An activation code for a coronavirus test is not needed at any of the region's eight testing centres.
A third of positive coronavirus test results in Brussels come from travellers who have recently returned from a red zone. "Since the beginning of July, the number of people returning from a red zone has tripled in Brussels and 37% of positive cases are returning from holiday," said Inge Neven, in charge of Brussels' coronavirus response. "It is important for people who have not yet been fully vaccinated to respect the mandatory quarantine and to be tested twice on return."
Police handed out fewer than 200 fines over the last six weeks to people who had not filled out the Passenger Locator Form (PLF) before returning to Belgium from abroad. That’s only one fine for every 3,800 checks. “Most passengers were very prepared when they returned to Belgium,” said a spokesperson for the federal police. “The great majority of them had filled in their PLF forms. That’s important because it forms the basis for knowing if someone needs to get a test or quarantine.”
The Netherlands has begun spot checks at the border to ensure that anyone entering the country – both Dutch citizens and travellers – have been fully vaccinated, have recovered from Covid-19 or have proof of a negative coronavirus test. Anyone entering the country for less than 12 hours (or has been outside the country for less than 12 hours) does not have to conform to requirements. Children under the age of 13 are also exempt. The sporadic spot checks will apply to people arriving in all forms of transport, including car traffic.
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.
It is estimated that up to half of people entering Belgium this summer holiday will not have filled in a passenger locator form - the majority of whom are entering Belgian soil by road. Figures from Saniport, which manages the PLF system, suggest that, over the summer break, about 200,000 people fill out the form each week when they return from a trip abroad - that's about two million for the entirety of the holiday period. According to Statbel, four million people in Belgium are estimated to be planning a trip abroad this summer. "This remains a sensitive point," said Karine Moykens, from the interfederal testing and tracing committee. "But it is obvious that we cannot close all the borders and control each car."
Several European regions will be added to the coronavuirus "red list" on Wednesday, including Copenhagen, Crete, Galicia, the Azores, Andorra and Malta. Travellers who are not fully vaccinated must provide proof of a negative PCR test, or take a test on the day of arrival in Belgium. More details here.
Travellers returning to Belgium from "high-risk" parts of the EU or Schengen area who are not fully vaccinated will be required to take a PCR coronavirus test on the day of arrival, and another seven days later. If the result is positive, they should quarantine for 10 days. The day-one test is not necessary if the person took a PCR test in the 72 hours preceding their arrival on Belgian soil. "Today no Schengen country is on this list, but this situation could very well evolve," said prime minister Alexander De Croo. "In this case we should be able to act quickly."
Health minister Frank Vandenbroucke added: "Personally, my advice is that if you want to go to Spain, you have to be fully vaccinated. Portugal and Spain are countries where I would not go if I am not fully vaccinated. The race is not yet won. We must persevere in the effort and remain cautious by maintaining measures such as social distancing and wearing a mask." The coronavirus consultative committee has agreed that controls at airports and rail stations should be stepped up, to ensure the Passenger Locator Form has been correctly filled in by travellers.
Prosecutors in Belgium have agreed to begin more systematic checks of passengers' travel documents at Brussels Airport, with on-the-spot fines of €250 for failing to produce the necessary Covid certificates or passenger locator form. "We will never be able to check 100% of passengers, but that is not necessary," said Halle-Vilvoorde prosecutor Ine Van Wymersch. Using false documents will come with a €750 fine. Airlines that are found to have been negligent in their own checks could be fined up to €48,000.
A Brussels court has sentenced a man to a year in prison and a €4,000 fine for trying to board a flight with a fake coronavirus test result certificate. It is the second conviction of its kind in Belgium since prosecutors announced a crackdown in April on fraudulent Covid documentation. Since then, 576 people have been stopped at ports, airports and train stations with fake paperwork. The convicted man had attempted to pass security at Brussels Airport on 7 May with a document claiming a negative PCR test result from a lab. The man's name did not appear on the lab's database and the reference number was made up. He later admitted buying the certificate on the black market for €30. Prosecutors had offered to settle the case in return for a €750 fine, which he refused. He then failed to turn up to court.
Belgium needs to do more to control the current coronavirus situation, the country's coronavirus commissioner Pedro Facon has said, ahead of Friday's consultative committee meeting. He is particularly concerned about checks (or the lack thereof) on people returning from overseas. "I have an appointment with the prime minister and the interior minister [on Monday] to ask them what is going on. I'm really not happy," he said. "It's not normal that there are no controls and that the counters are unmanned at the airport."
Health minister Frank Vandenbroucke and interior minister Annelies Verlinden are also keen for stricter checks at airports. Verlinden is in favour of airlines being fined if they are found to not have carried out sufficient checks pre-boarding.
In Brussels, some 10,000 people per week are currently returning to Belgium from travel in a red-zone country. A third of new infections can be traced to people who have recently been abroad.
All of Portugal and most of Spain (except Galicia and Castilla-la Mancha) have turned red on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control's coronavirus heatmap, which is updated every Thursday. In Norway, several regions have turned orange. Meanwhile, the dark-red list of affected countries has been updated to include Russia and Indonesia. Travellers returning to Belgium from these countries must therefore quarantine for 10 days.
Federal health minister Frank Vandenbroucke has urged travellers to show some common sense when choosing a holiday destination this summer. "Personally, I wouldn't go to Portugal or Catalonia if I wasn't vaccinated," he said. "It is not prohibited because there is freedom of movement and it is essential. But beyond the rules, there is still some common sense required." About 35% of the Belgian population is fully vaccinated, with the goal of reaching 70% before the start of the new academic year. Vandenbroucke expects infection numbers to grow significantly in September, and has urged caution over the summer.
Now is not the time to be travelling abroad, according to Erika Vlieghe, the virologist who chair's Belgium's GEMS expert panel advising the government on coronavirus restrictions. "All of us need a little rest and relaxation. But to be honest it worries me, especially when I see the amount of people who travel, and who travel quite far," she said. "Travelling involves risks of bringing viruses and new variants in Belgium. Despite the vaccination campaign, there may still be some transmission to people who have not yet been vaccinated. We are still in a period of transmission."
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.
Belgium's Covid certificate system has launched. The Covidsafe app is available for iPhone and Android via www.covidsafe.be and connects with the ItsMe digital login system. The app allows users to display proof of vaccination, or a negative test result. A paper copy can also be downloaded via your personal account at masante.belgium.be. More than 650,000 people have requested a Belgian Covid certificate and the Covidsafe app has been downloaded more than 400,000 times.
Large queues formed outside the Royal Air Maroc ticket booking office in Brussels after the Moroccan King Mohammed VI instructed the national airline to cut prices to facilitate the return of Moroccans living abroad.
With the summer travel season fast approaching, it might be tempting to book a "free" coronavirus test by claiming you are symptomatic, instead of having to pay for a pre-travel test. This is a false economy, RTBF reports. One test centre manager told the broadcaster: "There are people who will try to pass themselves off as symptomatic so that social security covers the cost. They ask for the certificate in English - that's when we suspect it's not for their GP. If you take a test because you have symptoms or have been in contact with an infected person, the paper you will receive is not the same as for travelling. The certificate is also not the same for each country. If you take a test claiming to be symptomatic, the document will have missing information and you could risk being turned away at the airport." From 1 July, Belgian residents who are not yet fully vaccinated are entitled to two free PCR tests before travelling abroad.
Belgium's Covid certificate scheme will launch no earlier than 17 June. Residents who have been vaccinated will be able to download a certificate from www.covidsafe.be or display a QR code on their mobile screen via an app. This will make it possible for Belgian residents to cross borders within the European Union. "We are technically ready," a spokeswoman said, "but we still have to set up the helpdesks, the information campaign and have the necessary legal basis for the processing of data".
Malta and Iceland have been added to the Belgian foreign ministry's "green" list of countries. The traffic-light system is updated every Sunday based on the latest coronavirus data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Most EU member states remain red, with the exception of a few regions. Most countries outside the European Union and the Schengen zone are also red, with the exception of Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore and South Korea (green), and Thailand (orange).
Hospitals and pharmacies
Cleaners at several hospitals around the country walked out of work for a few minutes to demonstrate for the right to the coronavirus bonus for which other hospital staff are eligible. The government decided at the end of last year to grant a €985 bonus to hospital workers. But cleaning staff are not employed directly by hospitals, but private companies that are subcontracted. "To refuse us this bonus is to deny our efforts and our importance," unions said in a statement.
The federal government has mandated that all hospitals reserve one-quarter of their intensive care beds for Covid patients, angering hospital staff in areas with high vaccination rates. Currently, hospitals who have too many Covid patients must send patients to other hospitals, requiring them to have enough space in intensive care. “This means that we have to postpone procedures for other patients again,” said Gert Van Assche, medical director of KU Leuven. “We don’t understand why this measure couldn’t wait until the next meeting of the Consultative Committee, when at least all the regions will be around the table.” Van Assche would like to see required vaccination. “Right now it’s a personal choice, but that has implications. The increase of seriously ill Covid patients, like in Brussels, could have been avoided. And this has severe consequences for the majority of citizens who are vaccinated.”
Some Brussels hospitals will begin transferring Covid patients to other regions in Belgium from Monday. "At the moment, we have 69 patients in intensive care in Brussels," said Marcel Van der Auwera, head of the urgent medical aid department at the federal health ministry. "It does not seem like much, but it is still 38% of the patients in intensive care in the country. And if we look outside intensive care, we have 31% of hospitalized covid patients who end up in Brussels hospitals." Charlotte Martin, infectious disease specialist at Saint-Pierre hospital, added: "When we take a closer look at the figures in Brussels, there are some hospitals which are two-thirds full in intensive care, which also means that soon we will no longer be able to provide care for other patients. This is why we ask for transfers."
Almost 18 months of working on the coronavirus frontline is taking its toll on medical personnel, with a new poll by Sciensano and KU Leuven pointing to widespread symptoms of chronic stress - fatigue, sleep deprivation and a general difficulty switching off. The study of 951 healthcare professionals found 54% felt constantly tired. Physical symptoms included muscle and joint pain (32%) and headaches (29%), while 24% of respondents reported experiencing hypervigilance. Only 11% of respondents said they had seen a doctor, psychologist or other health professional to discuss their condition.
Compulsory vaccination for healthcare workers and other caregivers was one of the issues discussed by the consultative committee on Friday - without a firm decision being made. A study by ABSyM found 85% of doctors were in favour of the idea. But the sector still has many questions about how it would work in practice, if approved. "Compulsory vaccination necessarily means sanctions in the event of non-compliance," said ABSyM president Philippe Devos. "What will happen to a caregiver who does not wish to be vaccinated? No one has the answer yet. If we follow the French system saying that those who are not vaccinated can no longer work, this risks putting nursing care in difficulty in certain regions and hospitals. And if we lose nurses, we will not have gained anything."
Federal minister of public health Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit) told Radio 1 that he will push for compulsory vaccinations for hospital workers and caregivers in rest homes. The minister was up until this point not in favour of requiring vaccinations, but the emergence of the more infectious Delta variant and a recent spate of deaths in nursing homes as a result have caused him to change his mind, he said. Together with Brussels authorities, he is also looking into offering secondary school pupils in the capital vaccinations at school when they return next month. Those would be voluntary.
New measures have been handed down to nursing homes in Brussels in the continuing struggle to control coronavirus cases. Every member of staff who returns from holiday abroad must be tested on the day they return to work, regardless of what country they have been to or if they are vaccinated. Starting on 1 September, nursing homes with a vaccination rate of less than 70% among the staff and 90% among the residents must carry out regular preventative testing.
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.
The Red Cross has launched an urgent appeal for blood donations, as stocks are "critically" low due to a combination of summer holidays, the recent floods and the coronavirus crisis, which has led to several blood donation operations in workplaces not going ahead. Belgium needs a stock of 3,000 bags per week and currently has just 1,300. See www.donneurdesang.be.
Belgium will provide emergency aid to Tunisia, which is facing a serious deterioration in the Covid-19 situation and a sharp increase in hospitalisations. A reserve of 150,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine held by the Belgian health ministry will be sent to Tunisia. Belgium will also supply drugs, medical equipment and protective gear.
The City of Brussels is donating 100,000 surgical masks and 20,000 cloth masks to Tunisia, which is struggling with a new outbreak of Covid-19 infections. The city had built up a reserve of masks that it had ordered during the first coronavirus shutdown last spring, which it no longer needs. The masks were handed to the Tunisian Embassy in Brussels, which will take care of the delivery to the Tunis Military Hospital.
A mother in Vilvoorde intends to file a complaint after she was turned away by her local doctor because she was not vaccinated against coronavirus. The woman needed the doctor to see her daughter and prescribe medicine. Her ID card was checked and, when it emerged she had not had her coronavirus jab, the doctor told her to leave and see another doctor instead. The GP in question said: "If I don't feel safe, I feel I have the right to refuse patients. It is also for the safety of my other patients, who are in the waiting room." According to the National Council of the Order of Physicians, this is not correct. "A doctor cannot do this," its president said. "When the disciplinary authority examines the complaint, it is possible that it will conclude that the doctor has failed in his duty."
Belgium will not follow France and make vaccination compulsory for healthcare workers, the country's health ministers have decided. However, the decision could be reassessed if the rates of vaccination among health personnel and care workers do not increase.
The maternity departments at several Belgian hospitals have indicated that they will continue to limit visits, even after the coronavirus crisis is behind us. Visits from relatives have been prohibited since the virus broke out, with only partners allowed in. A spokeswoman for the Iris Sud hospital network in Brussels said they had found that the mother-child bond was stronger and breastfeeding went better when there were fewer interruptions: "We will maintain the current rules on visits, that is to stay to limit visits to the father and siblings." The director of Liège CHU hospital, Marc Vranx, said: "Before these restrictions, the corridors of the maternity wards were much noisier. Mothers need time to rest."
Work inspectors carried out surprise spot checks at six hospitals around Belgium in a single day to check the working hours of assistant nurses. Their contracts specify a 38 to 48-hour week, with occasional peaks of up to 60 allowed. In reality, they can work up to 90 hours per week. A spokesperson said: "This is the first time in Belgium that the labour auditors have joined forces to simultaneously carry out an operation of such magnitude."
Nurses at Erasmus hospital in Anderlecht have walked out on strike in protest against changes to their work status. A minimum level of service will be guaranteed. From 1 July, the concept of a "specialised nurse" will no longer be recognised. Unions say this will lead to pay cuts for many, and will make some jobs less attractive to newcomers. Jérôme Tack, who chairs the Association of Intensive Care Nurses, said: "All international studies show that the more nurses are specialised, and the more years of study they do, the more we can decrease hospital mortality. These decisions are really against patient safety."
After three months of being sold exclusively by pharmacies, coronavirus self-testing kits can now also be sold in supermarkets. But supermarkets do not appear to be rushing to stock them. A Delhaize spokesman said: "This is not the time to put them up for sale. We will see how the situation evolves, but for the moment, it is no." A spokeswoman for Colruyt added: "We believe that there are still too many unknowns. We will keep an eye on the market, but at the moment we are not going to enter this market, unless the government asks us to sell these products. We remember the episode with the suppliers of the masks so we are a a little more cautious."
The number of students working this summer is at a similar level to the summer of 2019, which was a record year. Interim office Randstad reports that, while the number of student workers is high, the number of hours they are working are lower than an average year. This shows, said Randstad, that not all sectors that typically hire students – bars and restaurants, for instance, and amusement parks – are not up to full capacity.
With nowhere to go and nothing to do during the coronavirus shutdowns, Belgian employees kept working and have built up impressive reserves of paid annual leave, according to the latest figures from human resources provider Acerta, based on data from 260,000 workers. This could cause a holiday-planning headache for many firms in the last few months of the year, as they try to accommodate every worker's request for time off. "Companies will have to rack their brains to avoid an overlap in vacation plans this fall and thus ensure good business continuity," Acerta legal advisor Olivier Marcq said. "We advise employers to take the initiative themselves this autumn to conclude a holiday agreement with workers, especially for popular periods such as the All Saints and Christmas holidays."
Businesses employing more than 50 staff will soon be granted access to anonymised data showing the percentage of workers who have been vaccinated against coronavirus, Belgium's vaccination taskforce has confirmed. The tool will cross-reference employee data from the social security office with the Vaccinet database - but managers will not be able to find out which individuals have and have not been vaccinated.
Belgium's federal public services will maintain the recommendation that civil servants in Brussels should work from home, federal minister for the civil service Petra De Sutter confirmed on Sunday. The consultative committee recently decided to no longer make remote work "strongly recommended" from 1 September. Across all the federal public services, it's estimated that 86% of people are still working from home.
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's federal government could save up to €37 million a year by 2028 by making some degree of remote working the norm. A study found "new ways of working" - namely two days per week at home - could allow a 42% reduction in government office space in Brussels, where the opportunities to merge departments and save costs is greatest.
Growing numbers of Belgian businesses are struggling to pay their invoices on time because of the coronavirus crisis, according to the annual survey by collection firm Intrum. Almost half of the firms surveyed said they, in turn, had agreed to significantly longer payment terms than usual - and that this extra flexibility was putting their own cashflow and survival at risk. Businesses are typically exceeding the agreed payment terms by 10 days on average and the gap is widening.
Belgium's economy could return to pre-pandemic levels as early as the first quarter of 2022 according to the latest forecast from the Federation of Belgian Enterprises. Its study found that most business sectors are now much more positive about economic activity, employment, investment and prospects than last November.
The SNCB is testing out a flexible season ticket for commuters who plan to continue partially working from home. A few hundred civil servants are using the new ticket format since 1 July. Its success will be evaluated later this year ahead of general launch in 2022. The ticket allows the user to travel between two specific stations either 80 or 120 times per year. A monthly version will allow six or 10 days of travel.
A study of 4,660 people by Antwerp Management School and UGent has found a third of employees feel less attached to the company they work for, since the coronavirus crisis hit, and no longer "part of the same family". Attitudes to remote working are also changing, according to the study. At the start of the crisis, two-thirds of respondents said working from home had a positive effect on their work-life balance. That has now fallen to just one in two.
Most businesses may have reopened after the coronavirus shutdown, but banks remain largely unchanged. RTL reports that the majority of bank branches are still only open by prior appointment. Some bank managers have suggested that this will continue beyond September and banking by appointment will become the new norm.
Belgium will double the income threshold allowed for some seasonal jobs this summer to attract more candidates. Youth and sports camps are desperately seeking coaches and monitors, as they are expecting strong demand from families to entertain children over the summer holidays - and activities have to be organised in smaller groups than normal because of the coronavirus restrictions. Health and social affairs minister Frank Vandenbroucke said summer camp staff would be allowed to earn up to €1,065 gross per month in July, August and September - up from €532.50 - without having to pay social security contributions. They can work for 50 days over the summer, instead of the previous 25-day limit.
Employees who have been offered "coronavirus consumption vouchers" by their employer can redeem them until 31 December, after the expiry date was extended. The vouchers - an additional tax-efficient perk for employees and a way of incentivising people to support local retailers - can be used in 15,000 restaurants and independent stores nationwide. More than 530,000 workers have received them - at a cost of €102 million - but so far only 30% of them have been redeemed. They had initially been due to expire in June.
The City of Brussels has begun a series of outdoor test events with the nightclub sector to examine how club nights can be safely organised in the future. Eleven nights are planned in August and September, in collaboration with Brussels by Night, a federation which brings together various nightclub owners and event organisers. Nightlife is expected to be on the agenda when the consultative committee meets again at the end of August. The sector is keen for a reopening date in September, or 1 October at the latest.
Funfair operators are broadly happy with the outcome of Brussels' Foire du Midi, which was reorganised to take account of the latest sanitary restrictions. "The public came in droves," said organiser Patrick de Corte. The fair was cancelled last year, at the last minute, due to the coronavirus pandemic, when many operators had already set up. This summer, it went ahead as planned, with visitors divided into smaller zones and mask-wearing compulsory.
On 13 August, supporters are once again allowed to attend matches in football stadiums in Belgium. They do not have to social distance or wear facemasks, but they do have to provide a Covid certificate proving full vaccination, proof of having recovered from the coronavirus or a negative test. Stadiums are, however, allowed to make an exception and let season ticket holders in without proof – but they have to sit in a separate section. Royale Union, Charleroi, KV Oostende and Zulte Waregem are among the clubs who will separate supporters without documentation. People in this section will have to social distance and wear facemasks when not seated. This was done, explained a spokesperson from Zulte Waregem, to allow young people who only have one jab to attend matches without the hassle of getting tested for every match. It also, however, allows those who choose not to be vaccinated to attend matches – but this exception will not last forever, the spokesperson confirmed.
The Esperanzah music festival went ahead, 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.
The organisers of Pukkelpop music festival have cancelled this year's festival, after asking the federal government for clarification on a number of coronavirus rules due to come into force on 13 August, which could have "important consequences" for the festival. Ticket sales and work preparing the site for the event, from 19-22 August, had been put on hold earlier this week. The coronavirus consultative committee announced on Monday that a "Covid safe ticket" would allow outdoor events with more than 1,500 people, without the need for masks or distancing. But visitors who are not yet vaccinated would have to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test within the previous 48 hours, instead of the previous 72.
A nightclub test event was organised in Brussels at the weekend, with 250 people partying in near-normal conditions. All the attendees were required to take a rapid coronavirus test earlier in the day and received the result by SMS before the night got under way. The club night was organised by the City of Brussels, Brussels Expo and Brussels Major Events, in collaboration with Saint-Pierre university hospital and ULB university. Tickets were snapped up fast, at a price of just €5. Participants were tested again after the event.
The Foire du Midi will return this summer, from 17 July-22 August, after being cancelled last year due to coronavirus. The City of Brussels has given the go-ahead, after reaching an agreement with organisers to ensure optimal safety.
The organisers of Tomorrowland have lost tens of millions of euros after it was announced that this summer's festival could not go ahead. Advance payments had been made for much of the infrastructure needed for the festival - everything from toilets to wristbands. Among the money lost is €1.8 million in Flemish government funding. The region's interior minister Bart Somers told parliament that he would seek a refund for any unspent money. Tomorrowland has made it clear that there is no money left.
The mayors of Brussels' 19 municipalities have agreed not to put up any giant screens to show Belgium's next Euro 2020 match against Portgual on Sunday evening. Some municipalities, including reportedly Saint-Josse, had been considering the move - but Brussels' police zones pleaded against it, saying they were over-stretched already with the European summit in town. Etterbeek mayor Vincent De Wolf said big screens in large open spaces had not been ruled out later in the tournament, if Belgium makes it to the quarter finals and beyond.
The Wallonia-Brussels Federation will carry out the final two of six test events later this month to assess how safely major cultural events can be staged. Almost 400 people will attend a screening at Palace cinema in Brussels, with masks but without keeping a minimum distance. And 750 people will watch a hip-hop concert at Le Manège in Mons, again without social distancing. "The first results of the test events are encouraging," said culture minister Bénédicte Linard. "Our goal remains unchanged: to produce scientific proof that access to culture can be safely maintained."
The 41st edition of the Brussels 20km has been confirmed for Sunday 12 September. Traditionally held on the last Sunday in May, the event was postponed last year - and again this year - due to the pandemic. The deadline for finishing the race will be extended from four to six hours, to allow more walkers to take part. Registrations open on 1 July.
The preliminary results from KVS theatre's indoor "test events" earlier this month are in. Air quality measurements point to a low risk of infection in the theatre, provided the venue is well ventilated and the spectators respect the rules on distancing and masks. KVS director Michael De Cock said: "The results are encouraging and reinforce our conviction that cultural events be organised safely." The tests were carried out in a venue at half-capacity. The next step will be to repeat the test with a full house.
From 30 July, if 70% of over-18s are vaccinated, large-scale cultural and music events would be allowed again. The audience limits for events would be lifted to 3,000 indoors and 5,000 outdoors. Participants will be required to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test.
With the Euro 2020 football tournament kicking off next week, interior minister Annelies Verlinden has published a set of rules for anyone organising a public screening of the matches. Events should as far as possible be organised outdoors and spectators should preferably book a place in advance. Screens on cafe terraces should be arranged so that passers-by cannot congregate to watch the match. Screenings are limited to 400 spectators outdoors and 200 indoors. If a venue serves food or drink, spectators must remain seated. Only if there is no catering can participants stay standing up, in groups of no more than four. Bar service remains banned and noise levels cannot exceed 80 decibels. The rules are valid until the end of June, when further relaxations might be allowed.
Meanwhile, Francophone broadcaster RTBF has decided to waive the fee it normally charges cafes and other venues to screen matches during the tournament. The fee would have been €181 per day for venues with a capacity under 300, and €302 for bigger venues, regardless of how many people were actually present.
The Ommegang festivities, normally held around the Grand-Place in July, have been cancelled for a second year running. "Our top priority remains the health of our spectators and our participants," organisers said. "Unfortunately, compliance with health protocols is too complex to put in place for a show such as ours which takes place in a city centre." Some 1,400 people usually take part in the performances, and thousands more are in the audience. A virtual Ommegang will be streamed on social media and it is hoped that the 2022 edition can go ahead as normal, from 29 June to 2 July.
Outdoor cultural activities can have up to 400 people in the audience, with masks. Youth summer camps are allowed, with groups of up to 50 people. Weddings and funerals can have up to 100 participants (indoors) or 200 outdoors. Receptions following the ceremony are limited to 50 people. Restaurants and cafes will also be allowed to serve customers indoors from 9 June, still with a maximum of four people at a table (unless a big family is dining together). Opening hours indoors will be 8.00-22.00. Outdoor terraces can stay open until 23.30.
Large-scale outdoor events can be staged for up to 75,000 people. Providing everyone passing through the gates has a Covid certificate (also called a Covid Safe Ticket), they do not need to wear facemasks or practice social distancing. A Covid certificate is available to anyone who is fully vaccinated or who has recovered from the coronavirus in the last six months. Temporary QR codes are also available to anyone with a negative test received in the last 48 hours. An organiser can choose to not require the Covid certificate, but then facemasks must be worn and the ability to social distance must be guaranteed.
Nightclubs and bars in Belgium have found a loophole in the corona measures that are allowing them to organise dance parties even though clubs are not allowed to open until 1 October. Because events with invited guests, such as weddings, are allowed to go ahead – up to 199 people or 200+ with a Covid Certificate – clubs are sending customers invitations to opening events. “I made our opening night a private party,” Nourdin Ben Sallam of the Red & Blue in Antwerp told Radio 2. “Anyone who wants to be invited can just send an email. I expect the police to arrive, but they are very welcome because we aren’t doing anything wrong.” Interior minister Annelies Verlinden said that the corona measure was meant for private parties not businesses and what clubs are doing goes against “the spirit” of the measure.
After 18 months of closure, nightclubs in Brussels will be allowed to reopen on 1 October. The Brussels government has reached an agreement with representatives from the Brussels By Night federation, setting out the rules on air quality, ventilation and maximum capacity. Clubgoers will be required to present a Covid Safety Ticket on arrival, proving their are fully vaccinated, recently tested negative or have recently recovered from the virus. The 1 October reopening was already confirmed for Flanders and masks.
Despite coronavirus regulations limiting numbers and requiring film-goers to wear facemasks, independent cinemas are reporting excellent figures so far this summer. Cinema Zed in Leuven even reports that July was its best month ever. Cinemas are crediting the release of a flurry of Oscar-winning films – such as Nomadland and The Father – that were postponed until the sector re-opened for the successful month. The poor weather also drove people to indoor activities, they commented.
From 13 August, a 'Covid Safe Ticket' will allow access to major events in Belgium bringing together more than 1,500 people outdoors. The certificate will prove that someone has been fully vaccinated (at least two weeks after their final dose), or that they have coronavirus antibodies from a recent infection, or that they have received a negative PCR test result within the past 48 hours. Participants at major events with the Covid Safe Ticket will not be required to wear a mask or keep safe distancing. Organisers must still ensure adequate ventilation and crowd control. From 1 September, the scheme will be extended to indoor events.
Seven residents at a care home in Zaventem have died after contracting the Colombian variant of Covid-19 (B.1.621). The first infections were detected on 16 July in a care unit for dementia patients. An asymptomatic visitor, who later tested positive, is the most likely reason for the virus entering the home. Within a few days, 21 residents and seven staff members had been infected. "It is indeed difficult to control respiratory distress in a unit like this one," said virologist Marc Van Ranst. "The very advanced age of the patients has also played a role. The oldest person who died was 93 years old." Today in Belgium, the Delta variant accounts for 95% of new infections, followed by the Alpha (British) variant on 3.7%.
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.
New figures from official statistics body Statbel reveal how the spending habits of people in Belgium have changed due to the coronavirus crisis. The average Belgian household last year spent more money on food (18.1% of their total budget, up from 16%), gas and electricity. Spending on petrol fell by 30%. Spending on cycling grew by 68%. And, surprise surprise, trips to concerts, the cinema and theatre fell by 70% as we devoted 35% more money to pay-TV subscriptions such as Netflix.
The Belgian federal parliament has approved the "pandemic law" which sets a legal framework to give police extra powers during times of emergency. The law gives the government the power to declare a state of health emergency for up to three months at a time. This can be extended by royal decree, but its extension must be put to a vote in parliament within 15 days of taking effect, or it becomes null and void. The law gives provincial governors and local mayors powers to close certain businesses and limit or prohibit gatherings in public.
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.
Since local police were given the power in April to check residents are respecting testing and quarantine obligations, some 1,371 reports have been drawn up. About 60% of the cases relate to people not filling in the passenger locator form. Some 277 people were found to be travelling without valid proof of a negative coronavirus test and 82 were in breach of quarantine rules. Local police receive a list of residents who do not show up for their compulsory test on return from a foreign country.
The Brussels branch of the Open VLD party has lodged a complaint against Flemish MP Els Ampe after she attended an illegal party at Place Flagey on 8 May and streamed live video of the event on her social media profile. Hundreds of partygoers had gathered on Place Sainte-Croix after closing time on the first day that cafes were allowed to reopen. In her live video, Ampe criticised the police and the mayor of Ixelles for their handling of the event.
After five weeks in a safehouse, virologist Marc Van Ranst and his family have been allowed to return home. It follows the discovery of the body of Jürgen Conings, who had issued violent threats to the scientist. Local police will continue to patrol the area around Van Ranst's home in Limburg province. State security will assess whether the threat to the virologist is now completely over, or whether there is a risk of copycat attacks. Conings' body was found about 150 metres from the area that police were searching. Federal prosecutor Frédéric Van Leeuw said the search had been "like looking for a grain of rice in 20 unmowed football fields".
From March to December 2020, prosecutors handled 126,466 cases of breaches of the coronavirus restrictions. This accounted for 20% of their workload, La Dernière Heure reports. So far, 57.4% of fines issued have been paid in full. Some 2,748 people have been granted a debt repayment plan to spread out the cost of their fine over an agreed time.
The Belgian state has won some extra time to ensure the legality of its coronavirus restrictions, after a Brussels appeals court ruled that the daily penalties for non-compliance handed down in an initial court ruling do not have to be paid yet. The League of Human Rights had taken Belgium to court, claiming the use of ministerial decrees to impose coronavirus measures, without parliamentary scrutiny, was illegal. In this latest ruling, the appeals court did not recognise the illegality of the Covid measures and considered that the question of whether the laws being used to justify the measures were constitutional was a matter for Belgium's Constitutional Court to decide. Until then, financial penalties do not apply. Meanwhile, Belgium's pandemic law is following its course through parliament and will be voted on shortly.
A participant in the first edition of "La Boum" in the Bois de la Cambre has been sentenced to 200 hours of community service and ordered to pay €13,000 in damages for assaulting two federal police officers. The 23-year-old man injured the officers with glass bottles at the event on 1 April, when up to 2,000 people gathered in the woods for a party, in breach of the coronavirus rules.
Police seized a sound system in the Bois de la Cambre that L'Abîme collective had planned to use to stage "La Boum 3". A few minutes after the event's announced start time of 16.00, police intervened to switch the music off. A police spokeswoman said there were no reports of illegal partying on Saturday within the Brussels-Ixelles police zone.
Police have identified two of the four suspects they were seeking in connection with the riots that followed the first edition of "La Boum" in the Bois de la Cambre on 1 April. They are suspected of injuring police officers and damaging police cars.
Several car manufacturers are reporting delays in delivery times for new vehicles due to a shortage of parts, blamed on the coronavirus pandemic. An electronic chip shortage means features such as car radios, satellite navigation systems and other connected multimedia features are in short supply. "It's sometimes difficult for our customers to understand," said a Volkswagen salesman. "We haven't seen anything like this before." Vendors are hopeful for a return to normal from January.
The federal government has agreed to extend a range of financial support measures for people affected by the coronavirus shutdown until 30 September. These include temporary unemployment and the double "droit passerelle" for self-employed people in sectors that still cannot reopen.
The Brussels government is providing €61 million to sectors still adversely affected by the pandemic - the budget aims to support businesses in need, particularly in the hospitality industry. Support premiums will be offered to restaurants, cafes, certain suppliers, nightclubs, and the tourism, sport, and culture industries. These new bonuses focus on the sectors most affected by the crisis and, among these sectors, on companies that cannot yet resume at full capacity.
So far this year, Belgium has paid €1.45 billion in financial support to self-employed people applying for the "droit passerelle" because of a fall in their income. The scheme is due to be extended until the end of September. The amount paid is doubled for people working in sectors that are still shut down, such as nightclubs.
The Brussels government has released an additional €15 million in financial support for contact professions and non-essential shops that were required to close in April. The funding amounts to €3,000 per hairdressers and beauty salons, and €1,500 for non-essential stores.
At the end of 2020, almost 350,000 people in Belgium depended on some form of financial assistance from their local CPAS. That's an increase of 60,000 in a year, showing how the coronavirus crisis has pushed more people into financial precarity. The number of people relying on food aid grew by 68% and users of the CPAS's debt mediation service grew by 27%.
People suffering from "long Covid" will receive full financial protection from Belgium's health insurance system, health minister Frank Vandenbroucke has pledged. At least 10% of coronavirus patients experience long-term symptoms more than three months after infection, including extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, confusion, trouble concentrating and muscle pain. "Their health issues have an impact on their family, their work, their business," Vandenbroucke said. "It's still underestimated." Ongoing medical bills for treatment will be capped.
The federal crisis centre has clarified the rules on wedding receptions, confirming that dancing is not allowed until at least September. Music can be played, but the sound level must not exceed 80 decibels. "If it is not possible to dance in cafes, then it is not possible to do it at weddings," a spokesman said.
Belgium's mobility ministers have agreed to extend the validity of provisional driving licences, "hopefully for the last time", to allow test centres to clear a backlog of exams due to the coronavirus pandemic. Driving schools and exam centres were closed for a long period - and many provisional licences were due to expire on 30 September. Licences expiring up to this date will now be extended to 31 December. Licences expiring between 1 October and 1 January will have their validity extended to 31 March 2022.
The five-star Steigenberger Wiltcher's Hotel on Avenue Louise is planning to make 85 of its 180 staff redundant. "The pandemic has abruptly halted the efforts undertaken for several years to improve the economic situation of the hotel," management said in a statement. Job losses are likely in cleaning and maintenance, catering and administration. A consultation with staff and unions is under way.
What have we learnt about the virus recently?
In 2020, some 124,000 years of life were lost due to coronavirus, according to new calculations by Belgium's federal planning bureau. The figure was reached by calculating excess mortality - the number of deaths above the number that would normally be expected in a year - which amounts to 16,000. Researchers then looked at the average age of the deceased, compared with a typical Belgian life expectancy.
The latest University of Antwerp study on people's attitudes to coronavirus show a significant improvement in most respondents' mental well-being. "We are all relieved that the figures have been moving in the right direction for weeks," said Professor Philippe Beutels. "But we also know that the relaxation of the rules and the holidays could still have an impact on the numbers."
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 Brussels region is carrying out 40,000 coronavirus tests per week - about a third of which are for people returning from overseas. The Delta variant is the second most-common strain detected, accounting for 12.1% of new cases in the past week. A testing peak is expected in July and August as more people travel. The region has capacity for 12,000 tests per day.
More than a quarter of French-speaking Belgians say they have lost trust in traditional media since the coronavirus crisis hit, according to a study by UCLouvain. Mistrust in the media has grown from 12.6% at the start of the pandemic to 28.9% today. Communications professor Grégoire Lits said the pandemic had led some people to seek information from alternative sources, including social media. He said the challenge was "trying to reach these people directly through relatives or health professionals, through word of mouth".
The first major phase of coronavirus vaccination in Belgium is coming to an end, with the majority of vaccination centres preparing to close in the coming weeks. In Wallonia, 15 of the current 52 centres will remain open. In Brussels, the Pachéco centre and the military hospital at Neder-Over-Heembeek will continue to vaccinate those who have not yet had their jab.
Severe coronavirus measures had a major impact on the mental health of prisoners in 2020, according to the Central Prison Monitoring Council (CCSP), says RTBF, who was the first to obtain the latest report. Although there were limited cases of Covid-19 infections, the strict measures imposed in prisons included suppressing visits and putting on hold plans to prepare inmates for life after prison. The council’s president Marc Nève said: "The impact was terrible on detainees. What we experienced outside was not easy. It was disproportionately hard inside for the detainees and their families." For the first two months during the first confinement, detainees received a weekly phone credit of €10. Some prisons also organised video conferences to help them maintain contact with family and friends. The council has called for virtual contact to continue beyond the pandemic.