Belgium to make COVID-19 shots mandatory for health workers

National News

BRUSSELS (AP) — Health workers in Belgium who don’t want to get vaccinated against COVID-19 will face losing their jobs.

Amid a surge of coronavirus cases that has led hospitals in Belgium to reserve half of their 2,000 ICU beds for COVID-19 patients, Belgium’s federal government finalized a draft bill late Monday to make vaccinations mandatory for health care workers.

Starting Jan 1, the workers have a three-month window to get their shots. During that period, those who remain unvaccinated will be notified of a suspension of their contract unless they can provide a certificate of recovery from COVID-19 or negative tests on a regular basis, and will be temporarily unemployed. From April, workers without a proper justification for their refusal could be dismissed.

According to estimates, some 60,000 health workers across the country of 11.5 million people are not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Alda Dalla Valle, vice president of the nurses’ federation, said the planned sanctions could have damaging consequences on the country’s health system.

“Our fear is that there will be more and more defections,” she told the La Premiere radio station. “In addition to the physical fatigue, which is real, there is also this feeling of exhaustion, which does not help at all. And for the few who are not yet vaccinated, it’s one more way to tell them: ‘Perhaps it’s time for you to leave.’ So, the risks are really high.”

The draft bill needs to be approved by the Council of State and the Parliament.

The move could pave the way for mandatory vaccinations across other sectors amid growing political support for such a measure, although Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said he’a opposed to the idea.

“It looks simple but in practice I can’t see how one can implement it,” De Croo said. “I can’t see any other European country doing this. I believe it’s better to try and convince people to get vaccinated.”

Coronavirus infections and deaths are rising in Belgium. De Croo is expected to announce new restrictive measures Wednesday in a bid to stop the uptick of new infections and hospital admissions.

In the last week, nearly 10,000 new daily cases have been registered, up 27%, and hospital admissions have increased by 28%, according to Belgium’s public health institute. The number of deaths also increased by 27% in one week, to 26.7 daily deaths. In total, 26,400 people have died from coronavirus in Belgium.

On Tuesday, there were 2,648 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, including 533 in intensive care.

“What I hear back from hospitals is very worrying, I want to tell our people how serious the situation is,” Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told Belgian lawmakers.

According to Belgian media, which had access to a report from experts advising the government, health specialists now recommend a temporary shutdown for the nightlife sector and halting activities where social distancing can’t be properly implemented.

Experts have also proposed making remote working mandatory again until the Christmas vacation break and recommend making mask-wearing indoors compulsory from the age of 9 instead of 12.

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