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Consultative Committee determines federal basis for face mask requirement

Today, the Consultative Committee has discussed the epidemiological situation. Given the large differences in vaccination coverage, the Consultative Committee has opted for a differentiated approach. The Committee has established that the number of new infections is stabilising. After a period of slow increase, last week hospital admissions also started declining for the first time since early July. Yet there are big differences. In Flanders, there is a decreasing incidence, in Wallonia, a slight increase and in Brussels, a stabilisation of the infection rates at a high level. It is therefore important to remain cautious. Vaccinations, in particular, have a decisive impact on keeping hospital admissions and intensive care units under control. In Belgium, 91.8% of the population aged 65 years or over and 71.9% of the total population are fully vaccinated. There are, however, considerable differences in vaccination coverage.

Nevertheless, with these overall vaccination rates, we remain one of the best performing countries in the European Union and the world. This is also evidenced by the number of hospital admissions. Between 1 January 2021 and 8 August 2021, 19,723 COVID-19 hospital admissions were recorded, of which 2.1% patients were fully vaccinated and 6.4% were partially vaccinated. In light of this situation, the Consultative Committee has taken a number of decisions.

1.Face masks and social distancing

From 1 October, wearing a face mask remains mandatory for anyone older than 12 in the following circumstances:

• on public transport, in stations and airports; • in care settings; • for all staff and customers in medical and non-medical contact professions; • during events, cultural and other performances, sports competitions, sports training sessions and conferences with more than 500 people indoors. These obligations constitute a federal basis that applies to the entire country. Regional authorities may foresee stricter obligations if the epidemiological situation so requires.

2. Pubs and nightlife

From 1 October, dancing in pubs will be allowed again. Night clubs and dance halls can also reopen provided that the Covid Safe Ticket is used and adequate air quality and ventilation is provided in line with stricter protocols.

3. Use of the Covid Safe Ticket

The Covid Safe Ticket is proof of full vaccination, of a recent negative PCR test or of a recovery certificate. The Consultative Committee considers the Covid Safe Ticket a suitable alternative to restrictive measures or closures in those cities and municipalities where there is a significant deterioration of the epidemiological situation.

The federated entities must provide a regulatory basis by means of a Decree or Ordinance to establish the use of the Covid Safe Ticket. A consultation has been launched on the possible extension of the Covid Safe Ticket to publicly accessible indoor areas with an epidemiological risk.

Organisers of indoor events with 500 or more spectators, and outdoor events with 750 or more spectators, will already be able to use the Covid Safe Ticket from 1 October. In this case, the obligations regarding CIRM/CERM will no longer apply.

Wearing a face mask and social distancing will also no longer be mandatory at these events. Organisers of such events must, however, request permission from the local authority beforehand.

4. Travel

Entry controls have been tightened and made stricter in recent weeks. Meanwhile, the Passenger Locator Forms (PLF) of all travellers returning or arriving are being checked.

The federated entities and local governments have also increased the surveillance on testing, tracing, quarantine and isolation for returning travellers.

5. Insufficient vaccination coverage in certain cities and municipalities

The Brussels authorities will take the following actions:

  • More call and field agents will be deployed to check travellers returning from countries with a high positivity rate;
  • Increased manual monitoring of PLF, with suspicious PLFs systematically passed on to field agents for follow-up;
  • Direct police access to the PLF database, with checks on individuals who fail to comply with testing obligations;
  • The explicit request to companies and administrations located in the Brussels territory to keep teleworking as a standard;
  • A broader use of the Covid Safe Ticket;
  • The possibility to be vaccinated at work, in secondary schools, colleges and universities;
  • Mobile vaccination points (general practitioners, home nurses, pharmacies, railway stations, etc.).

6. Preparation end of federal phase

In the coming period, the end of the federal phase will be further prepared. The Consultative Committee will continue to monitor the epidemiological situation closely and will meet again by mid-October at the latest.