Consultative Committee determines rules for face masks
Today, the Consultative Committee discussed the epidemiological situation. Given the large difference in vaccination rates, the Consultative Committee opted for a differentiated approach.
The Committee noted that the number of new infections is stabilizing. Also, after a period of slow increase since early July, overall hospital admission rates fell for the first time this past week. Yet there are major differences. The incidence in Flanders is decreasing, with a slight increase in Wallonia and a stabilization of infection rates at a high level in Brussels. Thus, caution continues to be warranted.
Vaccinations, in particular, are decisive in controlling hospital admissions and ICU occupancy levels. In Belgium, 91.8% of people over 65 and 71.9% of the total population are fully vaccinated, although there are major variations in vaccination coverage.
Nevertheless, with these overall vaccination rates, we remain among the best performing countries in the European Union and the world. This also has an effect on the number of hospital admissions. For the period 1 January 2021 to 8 August 2021 there were 19,723 people who were admitted to hospital because of COVID-19, of whom 2.1% were fully vaccinated and 6.4% were partially vaccinated.
In light of this situation, the Consultative Committee made a series of decisions.
- Face masks and social distancing
As of 1 October wearing a face mask for persons over 12 years of age remains mandatory in the following circumstances:
- inside spaces of public transport, stations and airports;
- healthcare institutions;
- staff and clients for medical and non-medical contact professions;
- during events, cultural and other performances, sporting competitions and training sessions, and conferences held indoors with more than 500 people in attendance.
These obligations are a federal requirement that applies to the entire country. Regional governments can apply more stringent rules if the epidemiological situation so requires.
- Bars and nightlife
From 1 October dancing in bars will be allowed again. Discotheques, dance halls and nightclubs can also reopen provided the Covid Safe Ticket is used and air quality and ventilation are ensured through tightened protocols.
- Use of the Covid Safe Ticket
The Covid Safe Ticket is proof of complete vaccination, of a recent negative PCR test, or of a recovery certificate. The Consultative Committee considers the Covid Safe Ticket an appropriate alternative to restrictive measures or closures in those cities and towns facing a significant deterioration in the epidemiological situation.
The federated entities must create a regulatory basis through a decree or ordinance to establish the use of the Covid Safe Ticket. The possible extension of the Covid Safe Ticket to publicly accessible indoor sites with an epidemiological risk is being considered.
Organizers of indoor events with 500 or more spectators and for outdoor events with 750 or more spectators can already use the Covid Safe Ticket from 1 October. In that case, the CIRM/CERM obligations will no longer apply.
Face masks and social distancing are also no longer required at those events. The organizers of such events must then seek permission from the local government in advance.
Entry controls have been tightened and ramped up in recent weeks. Meanwhile, all returning or arriving travellers are checked to see whether they completed the Passenger Locator Form (PLF).
The federated entities and local governments have also stepped up monitoring of testing, tracing, quarantine and isolation for returning travellers.
- Vaccination rates too low in certain cities and towns
The Brussels authorities will take the following actions:
- Increased use of call and field agents with returning travellers from countries with high positivity rates;
- Tighter manual follow-up of PLF, where suspicious PLF will be passed on to field agents for follow-up systematically;
- Police services will have direct access to the PLF database and check those individuals who failed to comply with test obligations;
- The explicit request for companies and public administrations located in Brussels to keep working from home as a norm;
- Expanding the use of the Covid Safe Ticket;
- The opportunity to be vaccinated in businesses, secondary schools, university colleges and universities;
- Mobile vaccination stations (general practitioners, home nurses, pharmacies, train stations, etc.).
- Preparing the termination of the federal phase
In the coming period, the end of the federal phase will be further prepared.
The Consultative Committee continues to closely monitor the epidemiological situation and will meet again no later than mid-October.