Belgian court overturns government ruling to shut cultural venues over Omicron spike

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A Belgian court has ruled to suspend the closure of cultural venues - including theatres - that was a measure announced last week to stem the spread of the Omicron Covid-19 variant.

The decision - which will not immediately lead to the reopening of cinemas, themselves subject to further legal challenges - came after protests from the country's hard-hit cultural sector that it was being unfairly singled out.

A ruling by Belgium's highest administrative court said the authorities had not demonstrated "in what way entertainment venues are particularly dangerous places for [people's] health... in that they would spread coronavirus, to the extent necessary to order their closure."

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced the original measure on 22nd of December as Belgium saw a sharp increase in the percentage of tests showing the Omicron variant.

Street protests

The court decision is not subject to appeal and while it does not directly give cinemas the green light to reopen immediately, reopening only appears to be a matter of time.

The decision to suspend cultural activities had come despite an overall drop off in Covid-19 infections since a peak at the start of the month as the country battled a fourth wave that strained hospitals.

Police in Brussels estimated that some 5,000 people took to the streets last Sunday to protest the closure of cultural venues.

Culture in France

Mewnhile, France's culture minister Roselyne Bachelot has maintained that cultural events have not been "sacrificed" following the implementation of new measures to fight the latest wave of the Covid pandemic.

Speaking on RTL this Wednesday, Bachelot said that French government would continue to help the sector.

"Culture is not sacrificed, culture continues. What threatens culture is the pandemic, not government measures," the minister said, speaking for the first time since the announcement of new restrictions on Monday evening.

Standing concerts are once again banned and a 2,000-seat limit has been imposed for gatherings in enclosed spaces, a limit that allows "the vast majority of theatres and concert halls" to remain open, she stressed.

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