How to protect yourself against omicron? [8 pictograms]  Get booster vaccine. Restrict contacts. Wear a face mask. Ventilate indoor areas. Use self-tests. Keep your distance. Follow the rules on working from home. Follow quarantine and isolation rules.

Consultative Committee tightens preventative health measures against omicron variant

Today, the Consultative Committee discussed the epidemiological situation in this country and noted that the omicron variant is spreading rapidly. That is why the Consultative Committee is adopting a cautious approach and is tightening up protective measures as of Sunday 26 December.

The Consultative Committee notes that the number of infections has fallen, along with a slight decrease in the pressure on care. Nonetheless, 693 intensive care beds remain occupied by corona patients.

In the meantime, this country, as with other countries, is being confronted with a new reality: the rapid spread of the new omicron variant, which is already responsible for 27% of infections in Belgium. This new variant is far more contagious than the previous variants and will be the dominant variant in this country by early 2022.

Given the high transmissibility of the omicron variant, extreme caution is advised.

Importance of booster vaccination

The vaccinations remain the most important protection against getting seriously ill from coronavirus, with the booster vaccination in particular offering extra protection against the omicron variant. Almost four in ten (37%) adults have already received their booster vaccination and the Consultative Committee wants all adults to have had the opportunity to be vaccinated with the booster by the end of January.

In order to slow down the spread of omicron, minimise the impact on hospitals and not jeopardise the reopening of schools after the Christmas holidays, the Consultative Committee has put in place a series of additional protective measures that will take effect from Sunday 26 December.

Protective measures

1. No relaxations

The current rules decided at the Consultation Committee meeting on 3 December will remain in force, including the face mask mandate (from the age of 6), the obligation to work from home (with a maximum of one return day) and the closure of the hospitality industry at 11pm (no exception for Christmas or New Year).

2. Prohibition of indoor events and activities

All indoor mass events are prohibited. This also applies to Christmas markets, winter villages, cultural and other performances, and conferences held indoors.

Indoor spaces in the cultural, festive and recreational sectors will also be closed, with the exception of:

  • Libraries, gaming and multimedia libraries
  • Museums
  • Organised activities aimed at the needs of vulnerable groups, in particular socio-cultural, lifelong learning and youth activities that are supervised by professionals
  • Festive and reception rooms, only for weddings and funerals
  • Wellness centres, including saunas, tanning beds, Jacuzzis, steam baths and hammams.

Cinemas, laser games, bowling alleys, escape rooms, paintball, snooker, darts and billiard halls and indoor trampoline parks must also be closed.

The sports sector will remain open, including fitness and swimming pools. Recreational sections of swimming pools and subtropical swimming pools must close, as must the indoor areas of amusement parks and zoos. Sports camps can only take place without overnight stays.

3. Stricter rules for outdoor events

For outdoor events, there will be stricter rules to prevent crowding:

  • Prohibition on using tents and other covered areas for visitors
  • Maximum one visitor / 4m2
  • From 100 visitors, one-way circulation plan with separate entrances and exits.

4. Sports matches without an audience

The presence of an audience at professional and non-professional sports competitions and training is prohibited, both indoors and outdoors.

5. Shopping safely

Shopping can be done with a maximum of two people (with the exception of minors from one’s own household). One visitor is allowed per 10m2 of retail area. A distance of 1.5m must be guaranteed between shopping parties. If the retail area is larger than 400m2, there must be appropriate access control.

6. Obligation to work from home

Working from home will remain mandatory, with one opportunity to return per week.

7. Celebrating Christmas safely

The Consultative Committee recommends that contact should continue to be limited over the Christmas period and encourages the use of self-testing. Ventilate indoors and wear a face mask. If you feel ill, then stay at home.

In view of the positive advice from the Superior Health Council and the Advisory Committee on Bioethics, the Consultative Committee has also asked the Vaccination Task Force to start vaccinating children aged 5 to 11 as soon as possible on a voluntary basis.

The Consultative Committee recommends the use of FFP2 masks for vulnerable persons. Recent scientific studies seem to show that the omicron variant remains airborne longer than earlier variants.

The Consultative Committee will reassess the epidemiological situation in the first half of January.