Huge crowds of demonstrators today marched through Brussels to demand an end to the country’s tough Covid rules as an Omicron ‘tsunami’ has caused infections to reach more than 60,000 a day in Belgium.
The sprawling crowd paraded through the Belgian capital, in a protest much larger than previous demonstrations.
There have been numerous previous protests in Brussels which have seen clashes with the police and violence.
And a protest on January 9 saw groups of demonstrators walk through the Belgian capital holding banners and chanting: ‘Freedom, freedom!’
Today’s protest was no different, with demonstrators clutching signs slamming Belgium Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and the Covid Safe Pass.
The Covid Safe pass proves that citizens are vaccinated or have tested negative and is required for entry into numerous venues. Police confronted today’s crowds with tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowds as scuffles and violence broke out at the protest.
Pictured: Police confront protesters at today’s huge demonstration against coronavirus restrictions in Brussels, Belgium
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM: Massive crowds clutch signs slamming Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and the Covid Safe Pass which proves that citizens are vaccinated or have tested negative and is required for entry into numerous venues
Pictured: A protester clad in a skeleton costume holds a sign saying ‘Where is my freedom?’ as thousands of demonstrators descended on Brussels today for a protest against coronavirus restrictions
The World Wide Demonstration for Freedom and Europeans United for Freedom, organisers of the protest, had called for people to come from other EU states.
This meant there were flags from Poland, the Netherlands and Romania in the crowd.
Francesca Fanara, who travelled from Lille in France, told AFP: ‘What has been happening since 2020 has allowed people to wake up to corruption.’
And Adolfo Barbosa said: ‘It’s a health dictatorship. It warms the heart to see these people here.’
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM: One protester wore an iceberg costume with ‘We are the tip of the iceberg’ written on it and perched the character Olaf from Frozen on the top of their outfit, as they attended today’s mass anti-Covid restrictions protest today
The organisers of the protest The World Wide Demonstration for Freedom and Europeans United for Freedom, had called for people to come from other EU states so there were flags from the Netherlands, Poland and Romania in the crowd as it weaved through the streets of Brussels (pictured)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM: Riot police detain a protester during clashes on the sidelines of a protest against European anti-coronavirus measures today
Belgium has seen daily infections surge to over 60,000 in the past week but the milder variant and high rate of vaccine means the country is not under the same strain.
Prime Minister De Croo said on Friday at a press conference: ‘[The Omicron variant] is true to its reputation. It’s not a wave, but a real tsunami.’
But he said: ‘There is good news, Omicron is making people less sick. First of all because more and more Belgians are being vaccinated or have been infected.’
He announced at the press conference that restaurants and bars could extend their opening hours but nightclubs still remain closed.
He also said that the country is introducing a coronavirus ‘barometer’ which will come into force next Friday to gauge the seriousness of the pandemic, according to Politico Europe.
The barometer will be colour-coded and allow Belgian authorities to link coronavirus measures and restrictions to hospitalization numbers and ICU capacity.
Police officers stand guard as protesters hold banners during the demonstration against the Belgian government’s restrictions imposed to contain the spread of coronavirus in Brussels, Belgium today
Belgium will begin on Code Red which is used when the health system faces a severe threat. Code Red corresponds to 150 new daily hospital admissions and bed occupancy in ICU of more than 500.
There is Code Orange for when the system is under pressure, facing 65-149 hospitalisations and ICU bed occupancy of 300-500.
Then there is Code Yellow for when hospitals face less strain which translates to fewer than 65 daily hospitalisations and bed occupancy in ICU of fewer than 300.
Mr De Croo said that the barometer will help officials with decision-making but the Consultative Committee decides which code level the country is in and what measures or restrictions the country will face based on it.
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM: A protester holds a banner with the words ‘STOP DE CORONA DICTATUUR’ written on it (Stop the Corona Dictator) at today’s demonstration
Balloons, banners and flags were hoisted in the air by huge groups of demonstrators who took to the streets of Brussels to denounce coronavirus restrictions in Belgium today (pictured)
Belgian riot police stand behind a barbed wire blockade today as a demonstrator dressed as Jesus clutches a crucifix which says: ‘The truth: We’re being lied to!’
One protester holds a sign alluding to George Orwell’s 1984 at the large-scale demonstration in Brussels today
In further developments announced in Belgium on Friday, public venues such as cultural centres can have up to 200 visitors with health passes and sport stadiums can host outdoor events. And from March 1, a booster jab is required for people to retain their valid health pass if they had their second dose more than five months ago.
The country has reported a steady increase in COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions in January according to Belgium’s health institute.
There have been more than 30,000 daily cases between January 11 and 17 and 255 daily hospitalisations between January 14 and 20.
And Belgium’s latest coronavirus protest comes as some governments seek to ease restrictions despite the fast-spreading Omicron variant causing a surge in infections.
On Friday, the EU’s health agency said that Omicron had become the dominant variant circulating in the bloc and neighbouring countries.
France has said it will begin a gradual lifting of Covid restrictions from February 2 after authorities said there were ‘encouraging signs’ that the wave of infections due to the Omicron variant was ebbing.