Rumors have been circulating for days that Britain was on the verge of imposing a quarantine – the question only seemed to be when it would come.
Two things seemed to make it inevitable – an increasing number of COVID-19[feminine[feminine case in the country, and the precedent that had been established with Spain.
If the UK had introduced a quarantine period for people returning from one country with a peak case, why not do it for another? Outrage will likely be less – Belgium counts only a fraction of the summer tourists that Spain normally enjoys.
Like Spain, Belgium has to contend with major geographic differences. Some areas remain at a very low level while others, like Brussels, are struggling with a significant resurgence.
And then there is Antwerp, which was clearly the center of Belgium’s resurgence. I visited the city last week, right after the introduction of a nighttime curfew. About half of the new cases in Belgium were recorded in Antwerp, and when we spoke, the provincial governor made it clear that she wanted people to work from home and avoid entering the city, unless necessary. .
What was very evident was that many, many people had taken this to heart. There were hardly any tourists and the cafes were empty. Without being ordered to do so, many residents had decided to go for a self-imposed lockdown.
In the past few days, infection rates in Antwerp appear to have declined, while they are increasing in other areas.
Although many in Spain are still angry that the entire country, including islands far removed from the mainland, has been regrouped, such a discord seems unlikely in Belgium.
It is clear that the country, which has recorded one of the worst per capita death rates in the world from this pandemic, is now battling a second wave. What is not clear is how damaging it will be or what its repercussions could be.
Brussels is, after all, the center of European politics. Just a few weeks ago, leaders from across Europe came here for a summit to discuss a seven-year budget for the EU, as well as plans to create a huge fund to finance the economic recovery from the coronavirus.
Now the idea of bringing all these leaders – Macron, Merkel and others – to Belgium may well be rejected.
Brexit negotiations will continue, with diplomats being exempt from quarantine upon return to the UK, but plans to reinstate staff at the huge European Commission headquarters in Berlaymont may need to be reassessed, if rates infection continue to increase.
Optimists in Belgium will point out that by the time these UK quarantine rules come into force, the Antwerp outbreak is showing signs of coming under control.
Pessimists fear that she has already started to move around the country, as evidenced by the growing nervousness of the municipalities of Brussels.
The proof of Europe today is that resurgences can emerge in unpredictable ways. Where once borders were closed, quarantine is now the answer of choice. We may have to get used to it.