Response to parliamentary questions (events sector and management of the crisis compared with other OECD countries)
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Emergence from the crisis and the road ahead for the events sector
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
As I've said a number of times, easing the lockdown is an unprecedented, complex and gradual process that requires us to strike a balance between the desire and the need to return to normal life, on the one hand, and the requirements of the health situation, on the other.
Unfortunately, because of their very nature, certain sectors cannot resume their activities at the same time as others.
Today, we've set out an idea of what lies ahead for, among others, the events sector. Here I have in mind events such as performances with an audience, which can resume from 1 July with up to 200 people in attendance, and gatherings such as funfairs and village fêtes, which can start up again from 1 August.
However, mass events will continue to be prohibited up to and including 31 August, as we've said from the outset.
That said, we're well aware that there are a great many activities that fall between those events limited to 200 people and mass events and that those involved in these activities need a clear view of the road ahead.
With that in mind, experts are currently working on devising the 'Event Risk Model', a security matrix that event organisers can use to decide whether an event can actually take place and under what conditions. This will be posted online as soon as possible.
And yes, this has yet to be discussed by the National Security Council.
Alongside this, the Consultation Committee met again yesterday, as we often do, to make arrangements for the resumption of activities for sectors and industries that are still in lockdown. Further meetings are planned of course in the coming days.
The relevant ministers are also responsible for coming up with protocols with the affected sectors and industries to ensure that work restarts safely. These protocols, as has always been the case, will have to be validated by the Exit Strategy Expert Group.
This morning, Minister Ducarme met representatives of the alliance of event organisers and suppliers to work with them on a lockdown exit protocol that includes all the required aspects: measures to ensure that people can attend events safely, steps to enable staff to work under the required health and safety conditions, and guidelines for organisers.
So I realise that this situation is difficult for many people who are still waiting for information – after all, organising events always or often requires preparations to be made several weeks or even months in advance – but I can only reiterate that we must remain vigilant in the face of the virus and its development. Health must remain the priority. And indeed, it is very difficult at this moment to anticipate what the health situation will be like in two or three months' time.
I would also remind you that many measures have already been taken to support the sector as part of the Federal Social and Economic Protection Plan.
As you know, last Friday, a meeting of the inner cabinet of the Federal Council of Ministers expanded to include the political parties that supported the government in the relevant vote of confidence – something that must be pointed out at the moment – met to agree on a series of additional support measures. These included the 100% deduction measure you mentioned.
There was also a measure, or rather a request, regarding the cap on numbers. Attendee numbers have been limited, with the cap at a maximum of 200 for July. The matrix will help us assess whether a cap should be maintained after that. I should say that discussions are still ongoing. We've not laid things down in stone yet and the final decision will be made, as has consistently been the case every day since the start of this crisis, on the basis of a detailed opinion from the Exit Strategy Expert Group on such issues as the need to maintain a cap for August or September and the requirements in the field. At the same time, as I always reiterate, the overriding priority remains protecting the health of all those in our society.
The Belgian contribution to the EU's recovery fund
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Yes, indeed. Many people were involved in the Federal Advisory Committee on European Affairs debate. It was a very interesting and lively discussion, where various points of view were expressed.
Vlaams Belang didn't have the courtesy to attend that debate, when there was the opportunity to ask questions.
No further information has emerged since that Committee debate on a highly topical issue, so I refer you to that.
Belgium's overall management of the COVID-19 crisis compared with other OECD countries
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
It's true that there have already been quite a number of articles and studies, which don't all agree or arrive at the same results – in fact, some of them reach opposing conclusions.
As you said, the ranking in question was compiled based on three risk factors, namely obesity prevalence, share of older people in each country's population, and number of international arrivals.
These three risk factors are linked to three 'quality of response' criteria, namely number of tests, provision of non-COVID-19 healthcare, as you said, and death rate. The first key thing to mention is that death rate has a weighting which is four times that of all the other factors in the overall score. You need to bear that in mind.
So while Belgium's score for the indicators relating to the number of tests and the provision of non-COVID-19 healthcare is good or very good, the fact that we have a high death rate does indeed have a major impact on our final result.
So although I haven't had time yet to delve into every aspect of the methodology, I'd say this shows that it's always worth having a look at the relevant sources and methodologies.
But in any case I can tell you that in general, Belgium has often been singled out for its death rate, and if we just stick to a comparison of official figures, Belgium does indeed have a higher number of deaths per million inhabitants.
However, how deaths are recorded is a key question here, since we know that not all countries count the number of deaths in the same way.
For instance, in certain countries, only deaths in hospitals are counted, meaning that those in nursing homes are excluded. In others, only those deaths where the individual has had a positive COVID-19 test are included in the official data, whereas suspected cases are not. And other countries only moved to full reporting later in the epidemic, meaning their figures have never caught up with the deaths that happened earlier in the crisis.
In Belgium, we've included deaths in hospitals, deaths in nursing homes and both confirmed and suspected COVID-19 deaths. In total, according to the latest figures, Belgium has had 4,710 COVID-19 deaths in hospitals, 95% of which have actually been confirmed as such with a test, and 4,849 COVID‑19 deaths in nursing homes, 27% of which are confirmed cases.
I would remind you, too, that the WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control have congratulated Belgium on our transparent reporting of COVID-19 deaths and invited other countries to follow our example.
So our comprehensive and transparent reporting of deaths shouldn't make us jump to hasty conclusions that we were among the worst performers in tackling this virus and give us an inaccurate overall picture.
We also know that the spread of the virus is strongly linked to a country's population density. Therefore, it doesn't make sense to compare Belgium with other, much less densely populated nations. You mentioned Australia and New Zealand. Personally, I always like hearing Australia mentioned. But from my knowledge of that country gathered from visits there and so on, I can tell you that Australia is a much less densely populated country than Belgium.
It would be much more appropriate to compare Belgium with other countries in Europe of a similar size and with a similar number of inhabitants. In a nutshell, to make a fair comparison between countries, you need to compare like with like, so excess mortality – which doesn't depend on how deaths are counted – vis-à-vis population density. If you do that, Belgium isn't an outlier – far from it in fact.
Does that mean that our management of the crisis was an unvarnished success in every way? No, that's not what I'm saying. All I'm saying is that when it comes to studies, you always have to be very careful and have a look at the underlying methodology and sources to avoid drawing conclusions that are more dramatic than the actual situation.
But, Mr Speaker, let me finish by saying something else as we've been talking about deaths and statistics. Behind those statistics there are lives that have been lost, bereaved families, people who miss their dead loved ones.
And I think, as I come to the end of my response, it's still always worth remembering them.