On speaking too soon

While rambling yesterday about the Coronavirus, I suggested (not as directly as I thought I had) that the availability of vaccines provided a way out of this pandemic. They do, but there are still delays.

The biggest coronavirus vaccination centre in Belgium, Heysel, did not open its doors on Monday after the delay in deliveries of AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines resulted in hundreds of appointments being cancelled.

AstraZeneca announced last week that it would only be able to deliver 500,000 coronavirus vaccines to Belgium, 200,000 fewer than promised, and Moderna said it would be delivering just 94,800 doses this week, leaving centres with reduced supply.

Then again, this is why any plans we make are very provisional.

Winter is here

We actually have a decent layer of snow at last. It started snowing on Saturday evening and continued pretty much all the way through Sunday. It’s eased off now, but we are still seeing the occasional flurries.

It’s days like this that I light the fire and appreciate the fact that I am still working from home.

The Haggis Crisis of 2021

As Brexit disasters go, this is quite a minor one but January 25th was Burns Night, a time to drink whisky, eat haggis and recite poetry. But with ongoing supply chain effects, there was no haggis to be found in Belgium, which led to something of an outcry.

More seriously, Stonemanor, which operates two British supermarkets in Belgium, has announced that it will have to close both premises this coming weekend due to depleted stock levels caused by import issues.

Stonemanor also operates a British Store online which is how I manage to keep fully stocked with essentials like Brown Sauce, Marmite and Lemon Curd. This site has, obviously, suspended orders for the weekend as well and are asking customers to check again after 10th February.

We’re not short of anything yet, but I will be checking in again next week.

I have found the site to be a very good one. They are quick and reliable and have an impressive range of foods on stock. Their announcement about suspending orders also notes:

All our orders are processed and dispatched from Belgium, so when this service resumes, there will be no additional shipping or Brexit surcharges to cover customs clearance.

If you are living in the EU and fancy a taste of something British (they also have a decent selection of Indian and Mexican foods) without any random customs costs, I would strongly recommend taking a look at what they have to offer.

Eased and extended

Since Belgium went into second lockdown at the end of October, I have been saying that I don’t expect the country to emerge this time around until 2021. Looking at what is being said, it’s quite clear that the government is very wary of a repeat of the summer where the country started to ease the restrictions and was hit by a massive spike in infections.

There was a review of the current measures on Friday, utterly unsurprisingly, the current lockdown measures have been extended until mid-January.

There is, however, some easing of the current measures with non-essential shops being allowed to open from Tuesday. Restrictions still apply and shoppers are expected to quickly pick up their non-essential essentials and leave. For us, this means that broken bootlaces can finally be replaced. Museums will also be allowed to re-open, and swimming pools, oddly enough. But not cinemas.

Hairdressers also remain closed. I have threatened to cut my own hair already, and am coming close to going through with it.

And, with Christmas fast approaching, the number of social contacts remains the same and absolutely will not change, according to Federal Health Minister, Frank Vandenbroucke:

The decision for Christmas period is final. We want to offer people clarity even if this isn’t pleasant. It is better to be certain where you are heading, and we absolutely wish to avoid giving people false promises.

We’ve already reconciled ourselves that we won’t be visiting elderly grandparents in either France or the UK this year, and I do see the sense of this. Disappointing as it is, you can’t negotiate with a virus and a seasonal lifting of restrictions is a bit silly, to say the least.

All of this does, of course, mean no Christmas film and no Wonder Woman this year.

And we’ll be having a quiet Christmas at home.

And I really need a haircut.

Oops

Spare a thought for Zottegem, a small town in East Flanders where a number of public-spirited residents decided to set up a horror trail — a six kilometre walk along which walkers can find horror stories from the local history.

Unfortunately, they forgot to mention it to anyone. So when someone saw a couple of pairs of legs poking out of a pond, the emergency services were called and the police, the fire brigade and an ambulance all converged on the banks of the pond to rescue… Two pairs of fake legs.

Now that people know about it, the horror trail is staying up until Christmas and I think the residents behind it deserve full marks for public spiritedness and thinking creatively about things to do during lockdown. They do lose a few points, however, for causing a panic.

0.99

So here’s a bit of good news. While the COVID infection rates in Belgium are still frighteningly high, they are slowly staring to come down and the R number now stands at 0.99. This means that the epidemic in Belgium is finally starting to slow down.

According to the Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht, who is also a virologist, it is possible that the second wave has passed its peak:

If these trends continue, Tuesday 27 October was the peak of Belgium’s second wave for the time being, according to Van Gucht.

This is all good news, and the number of hospital admissions has also fallen slightly. That said, intensive care cases have risen and we’re not out of the woods yet.

“It is clear that the efforts are starting to work, but the way down is still a very long one,” he said. “We still have to stick to the current regime for a long time to get into safe waters.”

There is still a long way to go and Belgium still has one of the highest infection rates in the EU, but it’s nice to see a slight glimmer at the end of the tunnel.

The post that isn’t

I was intending to write a lengthy post today about the fact that Belgium is now, for all intents and purposes, back in lockdown as of today. It was announced on Friday and went into effect today.

The measures remain in effect until 13th December but, speaking selfishly, the impact on us is quite minimal. I am already working from home and we’re not doing a lot of non-essential shopping right now. For the boys, the Autumn break is extended from one to two weeks but they will all be going back to school on the 16th. The main impact is going to be that sport and youth activities have all been cancelled — but with schools being open, they won’t be as isolated as they were in the Spring.

I was all set to go on at some length about the details, and then Monday happened. I have spent six hours dealing with one work-related crisis after another. Truth be told, crisis is too big a word, it’s more a case of too many people wanting too much stuff right now. Either way, though I now have neither the energy nor the motivation to start parsing exactly where we are now. So this is all you are going to get from me today.

Belgium is in lockdown, Christmas is cancelled, the medical community are broadly happy and the biggest impact on me is that I am going to really need a haircut in a month’s time.

Not a lockdown

Last week Belgium’s federal government announced a new set of restrictions in the face of ever rising coronavirus numbers. This was followed by regional restrictions in Wallonia and Brussels. And now Flanders has finally caught up.

New restrictions coming into force on Friday including the closure of cinemas and all other cultural venues.

The biggest effect on us will a ban on all amateur sport for anyone over 12, which also applies to youth groups and other activities for the over twelves. This is going to be hard for us since our oldest boy is going to be severely restricted by this while the twins, aged ten, will be largely unaffected.

The worst part, though, is that there is currently no indication as to how long the restrictions will remain in place.

While the various politicians keep saying that they don’t want to implement another lockdown, it does feel very much as if we’re edging closer and closer to one without anyone being willing to admit it.

I have seen various virologists calling for a short (four week) lockdown now in order to avoid a never-ending semi-lockdown which is just going to exhaust, frustrate and confuse people. I have to admit that I find myself increasingly in agreement with this view.

Another lockdown wouldn’t be any fun, but it would give us all a bit of clarity and would, ultimately, be less draining than the endless tweaking of rules we are currently seeing.

Another lockdown has been mooted already. Belgium is currently the worst hit country in the EU. The government needs to bite the bullet and implement a consistent lockdown before it becomes too late.