Divided on many subjects, the Belgian regions are now also divided on the management of the pandemic. First sign, clearly visible, of these differences in approach: the 1is October, Flanders will abolish the obligation to wear the mask, in particular in shops and schools, while it will remain prescribed in Brussels. Wallonia decided, Wednesday September 22, after hesitation, to imitate the capital. However, the province of Liège has already imposed the mask since September 18 on all over 12 years old: the new progression of the virus in this area is worrying.
It was the Prime Minister, Alexander De Croo, who on September 17 announced that the regions would now have carte blanche to set the rules. A decision criticized by experts: several of them consider it hasty and believe that it could lead to the abandonment of the mask, while in their eyes it remains essential, even when the vaccination progresses.
“We undoubtedly take risks”
“I am afraid that the citizen will say to himself: ‘Flanders let go of the mask, so why not me?’ “, underlines Yves Coppieters, epidemiologist at the Free University of Brussels. “With 25,500 dead, the coming winter and the international recommendations for maintaining the wearing of masks, we are undoubtedly taking risks”, judge another expert, who wants to remain anonymous. The latest data shows that new infections increased 5% for the period from September 12 to 18, reaching 2,060 cases on average per day. In total, more than 1.2 million people, out of a population of 11.4 million, have been infected with the virus since March 2020.
Mr De Croo appears, in fact, to have yielded to strong pressure from the regional government of Flanders, led by the nationalist party Alliance néoflamande (N-VA). Citing the fact that the vaccination rate is very high in northern Belgium (91% of over 18s are fully vaccinated), regional officials demanded the end of the mask in public places, businesses, schools and The stores. For Bart De Wever, mayor of Antwerp and president of the N-VA, a lower vaccination rate in other regions cannot therefore slow down the “Return to normal life” in Flanders. This rate is 79% in Wallonia and 64% in Brussels, but respectively 67% and 51% if the total population is taken into account, and not only the over 18s.
In Brussels, efforts to convince younger people and certain foreign communities to get vaccinated seem to have little effect. Enough to stir up criticism against Alain Maron, the regional health minister. This environmental leader is accused by the opposition – but also by some of his majority allies – of having poorly communicated, developing a purely technocratic approach and neglecting the role of municipalities by refusing the creation of local vaccination centers.
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