Thousands of peaceful protesters demonstrated in central Brussels on Sunday for a third time against reinforced COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the Belgian government to counter a spike infections and the emergence of the worrying omicron variant.
A strong police presence was deployed on streets in anticipation of the crowds, given how previous protests had sometimes descended into violence, arrest and injury.
The marchers — some with placards reading “free zone,” “I’ve had my fair dose” and “enough is enough” — came to protest the government’s strong advice to get vaccinated, and included Belgian health care workers who will have a three-month window in which to get vaccinated against the coronavirus from Jan. 1 or risk losing their jobs.
On Sunday, the Brussels-based European Commission agreed with Pfizer-BioNTech to accelerate the delivery of vaccines starting in a few weeks. The pharmaceutical giant will deliver an additional 20 million vaccine doses January through March to European Union member states.
The Belgian protest comes one day after similar protests in other capitals including Paris and London. Nations across Europe moved to reimpose tougher measures to stem a new wave of COVID-19 infections spurred by the highly transmissible omicron variant, with the Netherlands leading the way by imposing a nationwide lockdown.
The World Health Organization reported this weekend that the omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in 89 countries, and COVID-19 cases involving the variant are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in places with community transmission and not just infections acquired abroad.
In a Brussels demonstration last month, small fringes spiraled into violence as several hundred people started pelting police, smashing cars and setting garbage bins ablaze. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons.