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 decides on winter strategy with immediate effect

Today, the Consultative Committee has established that the coronavirus situation in our country is rapidly deteriorating with an overburdened healthcare system, the loss of healthcare staff and a delay in patient care as a result. The Consultative Committee has therefore decided on a new winter strategy with measures aiming to reduce the number of contacts.

The coronavirus situation has further deteriorated since the previous Consultative Committee convened. The number of infections, hospital admissions and the pressure on intensive care units have continued to rise. Although a temporary increase was expected, it is a lot more significant than the predicted “worst-case” scenario.

Consequently, the situation in the healthcare sector has also deteriorated, particularly for GPs, test centres and hospitals. In addition, 10% of intensive care beds are unavailable due to the loss of healthcare staff, leading to yet another delay in patient care, both in primary care and in hospitals.

The Consultative Committee has therefore taken a series of decisions aimed at slowing down the spread of the virus and making the burden on the care sector more manageable. These measures will be reassessed on 15 December.

1. Additional vaccinations

After the booster jab for vulnerable and specific target groups, such as 65+, caregivers, immunodeficient individuals and people who received Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, the whole population should receive an additional vaccination dose as soon as possible.

The aim is for citizens to receive an mRNA-based booster jab four months after their last dose (Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca) or six months after their last dose (Pfizer and Moderna).

The Consultative Committee has requested that the scientifically based operational plan, which the IMC Public Health will develop by 27 November, be implemented as soon as possible, so that the capacity of the vaccination campaign can rapidly and significantly be increased and that as many people as possible can be vaccinated before Christmas. Those individuals should be able to register through a flexible online system, such as QVAX.

Given the recent approval by EMA, the Committee has asked that the Supreme Health Council and the Advisory Committee on Bioethics give their opinion promptly with a view to possibly start vaccinating 5- to 11-year-olds on a voluntary basis.

2. Winter strategy

Private gatherings

Private gatherings indoors are prohibited, not including weddings and funerals (funeral reception). The latter should be organised with the CST from 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. The terms and conditions for the catering industry apply. Dancing with a face mask is, however, allowed.

This measure does not apply to gatherings at home. The Committee strongly encourages self-testing when receiving guests at home.

The use of the CST for private gatherings does not apply to private gatherings organised at home, except when professional catering services are used.

These can only be used between 5am and 11pm, with the exception of weddings.

Catering activities

The maximum number of people per table is limited to six. An entire household can share a table, regardless of size.

Only table seating is allowed.

Opening hours are limited from 5am to 11pm.

Night clubs and dance halls

Night clubs and dance halls must close.

Public events

Indoor public events must be seated, according to the rules of the CST including face masks.

Outdoor public events: if organisers do not respect the social distancing rules and the 1.5 metre rule between groups, their event will be closed down. The catering terms apply.

The measures for events organised by professionals will enter into force on 29 November.

Trade fairs

The Committee has confirmed wearing a face mask is mandatory at trade fairs.

The federated entities shall adopt the necessary regulatory provisions for the general introduction of the CST at trade fairs.

Sports competitions

Indoor sports competitions, both amateur and professional, can take place without an audience. However, participants up to the age of 18 may be accompanied by their parents.

Compulsory education

The Ministers for Education will develop a set of measures concerning, among other things:

  • Face mask requirement;
  • Air quality and improved ventilation;
  • Keeping class groups apart;
  • Detection of high-risk contacts;
  • Extracurricular activities.

The Ministers of Education and Higher Education are invited to formulate additional proposals based on consultation with umbrella organisations and trade unions.

Youth activities

The Ministers for Youth have been asked to formulate additional proposals on restricting and safeguarding indoor youth activities by 29 November, taking into account the epidemiological risks of mixing young people from different classrooms and schools.

Teleworking

The period which allows for one return day to the office has been extended from 12 December to 19 December.

The period during which a maximum of two return days are allowed will now start on 20 December.

3. Enforcement

The police and inspection services have been asked to take strict action against any violations of the measures.

The competent ministers and mayors have been asked to ensure the police and inspection services receive the necessary instructions.

4. Finally, three guidelines to stay safe

  • Limit your contacts. Adjust your behaviour and be particularly careful with vulnerable people. If you do want to see each other, preferably do it outside.

  • Use self-tests. When hosting guests at home, use a self-test and wear a face mask. This guarantees better protection. Self-tests are available at every pharmacist as well as in supermarkets.

  • Ventilate. Ensure adequate ventilation of indoor areas. This is the healthiest option at any time, but especially in coronavirus times.