On Sunday, Brussels was rocked by another COVID protest. While smaller than the previous one on November 21st, which was estimated at 35,000 attendees, thousands gathered to make their voices heard. The event took place under mostly peaceful conditions, but some violence broke out near the European Commission headquarters, Sky News reports.
The protest came in the wake of a fresh string of measures, announced by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo that Friday. These included stricter sanitary rules, closing day care centers and primary schools one week earlier for the Christmas holidays, and asking children aged six and over to wear masks. Earlier attempts to bring down the dizzying infection rate, which put Belgian hospital services under severe strain, had proven unsuccessful. On a weekly average, 17,862 new daily cases were reported in Belgium, a rise of 6% compared to the previous week, while hospital admissions rose 4%, leaving more than 3,700 people in hospital with COVID. Out of that number, 821 of them required treatment in intensive care.
What galvanized the protestors ranged from resistance to masking, objection to the controversial COVID Safety Ticket (CST), which allows only those in the vaccinated, testing negative, or newly recovered categories to enter most public spaces, to the specter of mandatory vaccination–for now, limited to those in care and health services. These anticipated mandates are suspected to be the reason why the European Commission headquarters saw violence, since it was its Chief, Ursula Von Leyen, who just a couple of days before had suggested the European nations take that route. At the building, some began to throw rubbish and other objects—including a bicycle—at police. They also set off firecrackers and flares, forcing police into using water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowd. No injuries were reported.
More than 27,000 people in Belgium, which has a population of 11 million, have died with the virus since the beginning of the outbreak last year.