Thousands of peaceful protesters demonstrated in central Brussels on Sunday for a third time against reinforced Covid-19 restrictions imposed by the Belgian government to counter a surge in infections and the emergence of the worrying Omicron variant.
A strong police presence was deployed on the streets in anticipation of the crowds, after previous protests sometimes descended into violence, arrests and injuries.
The marchers — some with placards reading “free zone”, “I’ve had my fair dose” and “enough is enough” — came to protest against the government’s strong advice to get vaccinated, and included Belgian healthcare workers who will have a three-month window in which to get vaccinated against the coronavirus from January 1 or risk losing their jobs.
The Belgian protests come one day after similar action in other capitals including Paris and London. Nations across Europe moved to reimpose tougher measures to stem a new wave of Covid-19 infections sparked by the highly transmissible Omicron variant. The Netherlands led the way by imposing a nationwide lockdown.
The World Health Organisation reported this weekend that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in 89 countries, and Covid-19 cases involving the variant are doubling every one-and-a-half to three days in places with community transmission and not just infections acquired abroad.
In a demonstration in Brussels last month, small fringes spiralled into violence as several hundred people started pelting police with objects, smashing cars and setting rubbish bins ablaze. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons.