Thousands of Belgian artists, cinema operators, event organizers and others gathered on Sunday to protest the government’s decision to shut down the country’s cultural life to stem the spread of the growing variant of the omicron.
Waving posters reading “The show must go on” or “No culture, no future”, the crowd demonstrated peacefully despite the pouring rain, accusing the government of unfairly targeting the cultural industry with the new virus restrictions.
Under the measures, which came into effect on Sunday, events like Christmas markets are allowed to continue, despite their loud and chaotic gluhwein (mulled wine) evenings, and restaurants and bars are allowed to remain open with new restrictions.
Even the scientific committee advising the Belgian government had not called for the culture industry to be shut down, leaving virologist Marc Van Ranst to question the fact that in Belgium “gluhwein beat culture”.
Dozens of cinemas and other venues ignored the shutdown order, according to state broadcaster RTBF.
A marching band accompanied Sunday’s demonstration and Place de la Monnaie in Brussels, the symbolic place that gave birth to Belgian independence in 1830, and leading cultural figures took the stage to voice their grievances. Organizers have urged attendees to wear masks and maintain social distancing. Authorities estimated that 5,000 people attended and it ended peacefully.
Under the new rules, indoor public activities are strictly limited, shopping is limited and sports fans will not be allowed to enter stadiums and indoor venues. The Belgian government, however, avoided a full lockdown like the one imposed on neighboring Netherlands for the festive period.
After nearly two years of forced closures and limited openings, the culture sector had hoped that its efforts, including special air quality meters in theaters, separate seating and limited visitor capacity, would would make it possible to escape the weight of viral restrictions.
The Belgian measures come despite a steady decline in Covid-19 hospital admissions in recent weeks. The government said the rapid transmission of the omicron variant made it necessary to take preventive measures.
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