Thousands of people demonstrate in Brussels against anti-vider measures

Protesters call the measures undemocratic

Nathalia Aguilar/EPA  -   Sanitarians test COVID-19

Thousands of people are demonstrating in Brussels on Sunday against the restrictions adopted to curb the covid-19 pandemic, in particular the obligation to present a covid certificate for access to public places.

The demonstration, authorised by the city council of the Belgian capital, started at around 13.30 local time from the North Station and is marching through the city centre under the slogan "Together for Freedom", according to Agence Belge.

Police and organisers do not yet have precise turnout figures, but say that thousands of people are protesting against the measures taken in the wake of an upsurge in cases of covid-19 in the country.

The march was initially called to protest against the use of the covid pass, but there are also demonstrators criticising the compulsory vaccination for all health workers agreed this week by the government or vaccinations in general, according to public television RTBF.

The organisers have denounced in a statement "the restrictive measures of freedom, which do not constitute a structural solution for healthcare".

Police have been deployed heavily to prevent disturbances such as those seen over the past two nights in the neighbouring Netherlands, where several dozen people have been arrested for taking part in protests against covid restrictions that degenerated into violent riots with several people injured, including two by gunshot wounds.

The spike in covid-19 cases in Belgium, where the cumulative incidence rose by 19 % in the last week analysed, to 1,346 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in 14 days, led the government to tighten some restrictions this week, although no economic sectors have been closed or certain groups confined, as in other European countries.

The measures mainly involve making teleworking compulsory four days a week and extending the use of masks inside establishments and cultural venues, such as restaurants and cinemas, even if a covid certificate is required to enter them.

Belgium already requires since October to present this document - which proves that the carrier has been vaccinated, has passed the disease or has tested negative in a recent test - for access to restaurants and cultural events.

In addition, the government has introduced a vaccination requirement for all health workers in the country, who will otherwise be suspended from 1 January until 31 March, after which their contract will be terminated - with the right to unemployment - or suspended until the worker is vaccinated if he or she opposes dismissal - in which case without pay.