Theaters, cinemas and other cultural venues will reopen following a court ruling, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in a statement Wednesday, backtracking from an earlier decision to close them amid surge in COVID-19 cases.
The reversal came only days after the government announced a slate of new restrictions intended to stem the spread of the new Omicron variant, ordering many of the city’s cultural centers to close down.
“We continue to follow closely the evolution of the pandemic in our country where Omicron is dominant,” De Croo said on Twitter following the consultation meeting.
Last week’s restrictions were met with protests in Brussels and a legal challenge from theater producer Mathieu Pinte. And on Tuesday, the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, suspended the decision to shut down the cultural sector. In its ruling, the court said the government had not shown “how cultural venues are particularly dangerous to human health and life in so far as they promote the spread of the coronavirus, to the extent that it is necessary to order their closure.”
The decision led many to expect the government to repeal some of its latest measures.
“This is a victory,” said Luc Petit, a theater director, speaking Wednesday to Belgian TV station LN24. “The justice listened to us.”
But, he added, the sector will still face economic losses.
Though theaters and cinemas will be allowed to reopen, they will be capped at a maximum capacity of 200 people. Visitors will also have to show a valid COVID pass, remain seated and wear a mask for the duration of any show.
Belgium’s professional sports sector is asking that similar measures be applied to them. Currently, indoor sporting events are being played without fans.
On Tuesday, Belgium’s health minister, Frank Vandenbroucke, expressed some reluctance about the expected reversal. He said he would support reopening cultural activities under strict limitations, and only “provided that the epidemic proves to be manageable and that the health care system is not expected to be overburdened.”
The rate of COVID-19 infections has been slightly decreasing in Belgium, with 557 positive cases per million people and three deaths per million recorded on Tuesday. A total of 75.6 percent of Belgians are fully vaccinated.
The government is set to meet again next week to discuss further health measures protocols for the cultural sector.