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Friday, January 28, 2022

COVID-19: Belgium scraps move to close cinemas and theatres after court rebuke

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The Belgian government said on Wednesday that it was scrapping its decision to close theatres, cinemas and concert halls to stem the spread of the Omicron variant, after being rebuked over the move by a top court the day before.

The Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, suspended the closure of indoor cultural venues following an appeal by a theatre producer. The measure, announced on December 22 by the prime minister, had provoked a rebellion in artistic circles.

Alexander De Croo tweeted a news release announcing the withdrawal of the controversial measure and a return to previous conditions from Thursday. These include compulsory seating and mask-wearing, and use of the health pass for events attended by 50 people up to a maximum of 200.

The Council of State was solicited by the producer of a show scheduled from Tuesday to Thursday in Auderghem, a district of Brussels.

The authorities had not demonstrated “how theatres in the cultural sector are particularly dangerous places for the health and life of people in promoting the spread of the coronavirus, to the point that it is necessary to ‘order the closure,” said the Council of State.

Several thousand people, 5,000 according to the police, demonstrated in Brussels on Sunday to demand the withdrawal of this measure.

Health experts had publicly denounced the closure of cultural places as “inconsistent” and an “aberration”, judging the move all the more surprising given that, at the same time, cafes and restaurants remained open until 11 pm throughout Belgium.

Some theatres and numerous cinemas, notably in Brussels, and the cities of Namur and Liège, decided to defy the ban by remaining open.

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