Posted by: Angela Arnold
For this blog post, I have decided to return to my first current event post that I wrote at the beginning of this semester regarding how Belgium is handling the COVID-19 situation. The AP article that I featured discussed the travel restrictions preventing Belgians from leaving the country for leisure purposes. The Prime Minister of Belgium enacted the ban due to concerns of the quickly approaching vacation season, when many Belgians travel south to the ski slopes or to the beach. At the time of the article’s publication, Belgium had reported more than 650,000 confirmed COVID-19 infections and over 20,000 deaths.
As I write this article in the end of March 2021, much has changed in Belgium. The total number of confirmed cases in Belgium has risen to 866,063. The Brussels Time reported that over the past two weeks, 504.9 infections were confirmed per 100,000 inhabitants, which is a 67% increase compared to the two weeks before. In terms of vaccinations, 13.1% of the population aged 18 and older have received one of the doses, while 5.4% of the entire adult population have been fully vaccinated. Belgium’s ban on non-essential leisurely travels and vacations outside of the country also remains and will continue through the end of the month. As the Easter holiday approaches, outdoor gatherings could be the go-to for many Belgian families. However, restrictions were just put in place to lower the maximum number of adults permitted to gather outdoors from 10 to 4 in anticipation of the holiday.
Even though I am a remote student, I received an email from the university that I study at in Belgium, Artevelde University, confirming that classes that campus will return to being off-limits for students. I remember when I started the semester in early February that everyone was very optimistic that all courses would be in-person or hybrid by the end of March/early April. Unfortunately due to the slow vaccine rollout, the faculty and my fellow students realized within the last few weeks that opening up campus to in-person learning is simply unrealistic in our current setting. Now their hope is to try to reopen by May, but it will most certainly be a waiting game.
Also this week, Artevelde International Club put together social Teams rooms for international and domestic students to get to know one another. I was paired with two awesome Belgian students and we had a great and dynamic conversation. We got to the subject of COVID-19, and both of them expressed frustration at the possibility of waiting until winter 2021 before the government will open vaccine appointments to their age group. They said this is in part due to a slow response from the political leadership of the country. We also discussed the difference in school attitudes towards the pandemic. I expressed that I was really proud of my university for their continued handling of COVID-19 on campus, and that I sincerely appreciated the options given to all students regarding the flexibility of choosing to come to campus or to learn from home. I told these two Belgian students that in the U.S., it is up to each institution to decide how they wish to handle their pandemic response. Some schools like Harvard for example, are completely remote and don’t offer on-campus classes; while most other universities in the country are promoting some sort of a hybrid version and letting their students choose which option they are most comfortable with. Both Belgian students expressed that they wished Belgian universities listened to their students in giving them the freedom to choose, but they said that the current education minister is somewhat corrupt and won’t listen to any student suggestions because he is only focused on primary and secondary education levels. Even though the subject matter was a bit grim, I overall felt that it was a fantastic discussion and I believe I am much more aware of the COVID-19 situation there and how it continues to affect the everyday Belgian.