| 7 December 2023, Thursday |

Belgium cultural venues to defy indoor ban, reopen illegally

BRUSSELS: Dozens of cinemas, theaters and other venues in Belgium are defying government orders and reopening their doors Friday to protest the country’s ongoing shutdown of cultural activities.

After more than six months without revenue, venue owners say Belgium’s ongoing ban on indoor cultural events is proof of “an unacceptable inequality of treatment” their industry has experienced during the coronavirus pandemic.

“There is no evidence that culture should take second place to supermarkets, zoos or any other activity that generates social contact,” owners participating in Still Standing For Culture, an activism collective, said. “The health situation does not explain why the fate of cultural venues has been systematically ignored for months, nor why new conditions are pulled out of the government’s hat when their reopening is finally discussed.”

Belgian authorities are organizing test events but have not yet given venues and their workers a solid green light to reopen. The federal government has said indoor cultural events can resume starting May 8 with a maximum of 50 mask-wearing people in attendance. It has said audiences will be allowed to grow to a maximum of 200 in June only if the pace of infections slows down.

But Still Standing for Culture said some venues plan to reopen starting Friday while following the health protocols issued by federal authorities to guarantee the safety of artists and attendees.

“The cultural spring has finally arrived,” the collective said.

Despite reopening illegally, the venues involved in the collective action will keep receiving aid subsidies. The owners, however, could be fined by police.

Belgian authorities are also worried by an unauthorized gathering planned for this weekend in one of Brussels’ biggest parks. An April Fools’ party drew thousands of people to the Bois de la Cambre park and ended in clashes with police last month. A sequel has been advertised for Saturday by a group called the Abyss.

The Brussels prosecutor’s office announced that anyone breaching COVID-19 restrictions could face charges. In a joint statement, the local government, the city’s police department and the prosecutor’s office urged potential party-goers to stay away from the event and to respect health measures limiting social gatherings.

“If necessary, the police will intervene, You risk a fine or administrative arrest,” the statement warned.

The coronavirus has severely hit Belgium. The country of 11.5 million residents has reported 24,185 virus-related deaths so far, although new confirmed cases and hospitalizations for COVID-19 decreased over the past week.

  • Associated Press