BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Reluctant Belgian students are queuing up in droves to get vaccinated, ahead of plans by the Brussels regional government to make the health pass mandatory for accessing restaurants and bars in an effort to encourage young people to get their shots.
Brussels residents will be required from Oct. 1 to show the pass in bars, restaurants and fitness clubs as well as at trade fairs to prove that they have been vaccinated or have recently tested negative for COVID-19.
In Brussels, only 44% of 18 to 24 years-old have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 71% in the neighbouring Belgian region of Wallonia. For kids aged between 12 to 17 years old, the rate falls to 30%, against 82% in Flanders, official data suggest.
“I am vaccinated so I am more in favour of vaccination but not at all for making it obligatory,” 23-year old economy student Laura Facoetti told Reuters.
Leon Zwikielski, a 21-year-old personal trainer and physical education student who is not vaccinated, was equally unenthusiastic.
“Sadly I will soon have to get vaccinated. It’s sad but if it’s a solution for improving the situation then such is life, we’ll have to do it,” he said.
The Brussels government has already approved the wider use of the health pass while Flanders and Wallonia, which have higher vaccination rates, have not yet decided whether to do the same.
In practice, it could mean that someone who is not vaccinated or tested could travel 10 minutes outside of Brussels and find themselves in Flanders grabbing a drink or a meal.
Bars and restaurants are worried about the impact the health pass will have on their business, but Fabien Hermans, the president of the Brussels bars and restaurants association, said such fears are misplaced.
“Having surveyed the clientele 18-23 years old and 23-27 years old, they said 70% of the clientele is vaccinated so what is the fear,” he said.
More than 8.2 million people in Belgium have now been fully vaccinated, or 72% of its 11 million population. Belgium has registered 1.2 million coronavirus cases and 25,500 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
(Reporting by Clement Rossignol, Bart Biesemans, writing by Marine Strauss; Editing by Gareth Jones)