Belgian Council Reverses Cabinet Decision to Close Theaters as Part of COVID

Belgium’s Council of State on Tuesday reversed the Belgian Cabinet’s decision to close movie theaters, concert halls and other cultural centers Tuesday, arguing that the closures would not have a strong effect on improving COVID-19 numbers.

The government’s restriction on the culture sector was met with protests from workers when it took effect on Sunday. Performers, theater staff and organizers took to the streets in protest while some venues refused to close. They called the government order “baseless” and “unfair.”

A member of a suburban Brussels production company appealed the government decision, at which point the Council of State stepped in to suspend the closures.

In its ruling, the council said the measures were “not proportionate” to the amount of risk, adding that when making the original decision, the government did not explain adequately enough for the council to “understand why going to cultural sector performance venues was particularly dangerous for public health.”

The council added that its ruling is “provisional,” as COVID-19 numbers remain unpredictable. According to Reuters, cases are declining in Belgium, with the average amount of new infections reported daily decreasing by more than 12,400 over the past three weeks. It also estimated that enough vaccine doses have been administered in Belgium to cover about 92.8 percent of the country’s population.

However, there is still an average of more than 5,400 new cases reported in Belgium each day, with more than 2 million since the start of the pandemic.

Brussels, Belgium, protest
Belgian performers, cinema operators, event organizers and others joined together on Sunday to protest the government’s decision to close the country’s cultural life to stem the spread of the surging Omicron COVID variant. Above, a boy holds a sign referring to a canceled performance as he protests with other artists during a demonstration in Brussels on December 26, 2021.
Virginia Mayo/AP Photo

The government order came despite the assessment of the scientific committee advising the government that going to such places poses no extra risk to public health.

The Council of State is an advisory body that has legal powers to overturn government decisions it considers unlawful.

The ruling came after a member of a production company launched an urgent appeal against the government decision to ensure that an end of year play could go ahead in suburban Brussels. It’s expected to impact on the entire sector.

The minister for culture in Belgium’s French-speaking region, Benedicte Linard, welcomed the verdict, and tweeted that “the closure of theaters is lifted. There’s no point in waiting for a new [Council of State] ruling to reopen cinemas.”

After meeting Tuesday with those representatives, Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told state broadcaster RTBF that “there’s no possibility to immediately revise the [government’s] decision.”

Events like Christmas markets are allowed to continue, despite their boisterous, and sometimes chaotic, mulled wine parties, while restaurants and bars are allowed to stay open with some new restrictions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

movie theater, Antwerp, Belgium
Belgium’s Council of State has suspended a government decision to close movie theaters and other cultural venues. Above, a closed sign hangs on the steps of a large movie theater chain in Antwerp, Belgium, on December 27, 2021.
Virginia Mayo/AP Photo

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