• Meuse-Rhine Gazette

Belgian Overlegcomité / Comité de concertation decides on the end of the Paaspauze / pause pascale

The Belgian Federal and State Governments reviewed the corona pandemic situation today in the Overlegcomité / Comité de concertation. The Overlegcomité / Comité de concertation notes that the pressure on the healthcare system remains relatively high, especially in the intensive care units. Over a third of all patients hospitalised with severe corona symptoms are in intensive care. This is a lot more than a year ago or last autumn. The face of the pandemic has changed due to the advance of new virus variants and it has become more contagious and aggressive.

However, the Overlegcomité / Comité de concertation also notes that a number of core values are evolving favourably:

  • a decline in the average number of daily corona virus infections;

  • an incipient reduction in the average number of hospital admissions;

  • the reproduction rate is below 1.

In addition, the Comité notes a further acceleration of the vaccination campaign. By 19 April, 60% of the 65+ age group resident in Belgium is expected to have received their first vaccination, by 26 April more than 70%, and by the end of April more than 80%. In addition, by the end of May, they expect more than 80% of the 18-65 age group with underlying conditions to have received a first vaccination. According to the Federal Government, evidence shows that a high level of immunity is already achieved two to three weeks after a first vaccination.

Based on this overall picture, the Comité made the following decisions:

Reopening schools

After the end of the Paasvakantie / vacances de Pâques on 19 April, lessons will resume in accordance with the regulations prior to the Paaspauze / pause pascale. This means:

  • full-time presence in the classroom for: pre-primary education, primary education, special secondary education, first stage of secondary education and the 'learning and working' system;

  • 50 per cent attendance in lessons for second and third stage of secondary education;

  • one day per week physical presence on campus for tertiary education;

Exams may take place physically.

If the infection rates evolve favourably, and after an evaluation by the ministers van Onderwijs / ministres de l’Enseignement to be presented to the Comité, all secondary education may resume full time classroom attendance from 3 May.

Non-essential travel: strict regime of testing and quarantine

The travel ban on non-essential travel within the European Union expires on 19 April. For travel outside the European Union, the European rules continue to apply. However, a negative travel advice remains in force for all non-essential travel.

Upon return, a strict regime of mandatory testing and quarantine applies. On the basis of the Passenger Location Form, the police will check who fails to submit to testing on return. Those who do not comply with the testing rules risk a fine of €250.

Paaspauze / pause pascale ends for shops and non-medical contact professions

On 26 April the Paaspauze / pause pascale ends. This means that from then on, residents are allowed to go out together in groups of no more than 10.

From this date onwards, shopkeepers will also be allowed to receive customers without an appointment. People no longer need to shop alone and may be accompanied by one other member of the household.

Non-medical contact professions – including hairdressers and beauticians – are allowed to reopen under the tightened protocols.

At the same time, some thirty pilot projects are being launched to establish, under practical and scientific guidance, how the various economic sectors can be safely launched or prevented from closing down in the future.

Seven out of ten over-65s vaccinated and protected: outdoor package

On 8 May, when almost all people over 65 are vaccinated and protected, a broad outdoor package will come into effect.

Activities in an organised context (e.g. sports club or association) can take place outdoors with a maximum of 25 people of all ages, but without an audience and without overnight stays. Children up to and including 12 years of age can also be accommodated indoors with a maximum of 10.

The following is also possible outdoors:

  • restaurants and cafés: outdoor terraces;

  • events (incl. receptions and banquets), cultural performances and worship services up to 50 people;

  • amusement parks;

  • professional flea and antiques markets;

The avondklok / couvre-feu will be abolished and replaced by ban on gathering whereby between midnight and 05:00 one may only be in the public area with a maximum of three people or with members of one's own household (people living under the same roof).

Two close contacts at home

From 8 May onwards, a household may receive two persons at the same time, provided these persons belong to the same household. Children up to 12 years of age are not counted.

Almost all over-65s and vulnerable people vaccinated and protected: broader perspective

A new and important milestone will be the moment when almost all people over 65 and vulnerable people with underlying conditions are vaccinated and protected. The Federal Government expects a high level of immunity in that group in the first half of June.

If the figures, especially in intensive care, allow it, the outdoor plan will be further expanded and there will also be room for more activities indoors, provided that there is a sustainable reduction in the pressure on intensive care at that time, so that quality care for corona virus and non-corona virus patients is guaranteed.

Importance of vaccination

The Overlegcomité / Comité de concertation notes that in some parts of the country too few people turn up for their vaccination appointment. Vaccination is the only structural way out of the pandemic. The vaccines are effective and safe. Possible side effects are very rare and mild, especially when compared to the symptoms of a corona infection that are thousands of times more frequent and deadly. The Belgian Federal Government asks: "protect the lives of you and your loved ones by getting vaccinated".