Thousands in Brussels protest against renewed Covid-19 curbs

Published December 20, 2021
BRUSSELS: A man throws a scooter in front of a police line during a protest against Covid-19 measures on Sunday. — AP
BRUSSELS: A man throws a scooter in front of a police line during a protest against Covid-19 measures on Sunday. — AP

BRUSSELS: Belgian police intervened to disperse stone-throwing youths on Sunday after the latest protest march in Brussels against anti-coronavirus measures.

The crowd that marched from the Gare du Nord railway station to a park in the city’s European quarter was smaller than in two previous protests, around 3,500 people, according to the police.

But a smaller number of mainly young, black-clad and hooded protesters clashed with riot officers protecting the route to EU headquarters, where officials were meeting African leaders. Belgium is recording around 10,000 new Covid cases per day as the Omicron variant spreads in Europe, and authorities have again begun to tighten public health rules.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo’s government will meet on Wednesday to decide on any new measures, and the neighbouring Netherlands has already ordered a Christmas lockdown. Belgium has run a relatively successful vaccine campaign and has begun issuing booster shots, but a vocal minority is wary of compulsory jabs and certificates or opposes lockdown measures.

The stone- and bottle-throwers were dispersed back into the Jubilee Park by charges by riot police, and officers in plain clothes made several arrests, a journalist saw.

Some people who took part in the march carried placards reading “Free Zone”, “I’ve had my fair dose”, and “Enough is enough” were protesting the government’s strong advice to get vaccinated.

They included Belgian health care workers who will have a three-month window in which to get vaccinated against the virus beginning Jan 1 or risk losing their jobs.

A strong police presence and widespread preventive controls were deployed for the march, but only 13 arrests were made for rebellion and possession of prohibited articles, according to police spokesperson Ilse Van de Keere.

Also 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 from January to March to the European Union’s 27 nations.

The Belgian protest came one day after similar protests in other European capitals including Paris and London. Nations across Europe are re-imposing 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.

Published in Dawn, December 20th, 2021

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