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Coronavirus achieves the impossible as Belgium forms government amid health crisis

Belgium Government Virus Outbreak
Belgium Government Virus Outbreak Copyright Benoit Doppagne/APRoyal Palace in Brussels, Tuesday, March 17, 2020
Copyright Benoit Doppagne/AP
By Ana Lazaro, Joanna Gill
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Belgium has been without a government since elections in May 2019. But coronavirus has helped focus minds.


A special government for a special situation. Belgium has finally found a new government with one and unique specific task: to deal with coronavirus.

The new emergency government will be led by Sophie Wilmés - who took over as caretaker prime minister at the end of October last year.

First impressions count and the family photo of the new team spoke volumes: ministers stood together, but apart. The new government leading by example and observing social distancing guidelines.

The government will have special powers to cope with the virus.

"It means that instead of passing laws, they can legislate by royal decrees. So the government can decide and announce a royal decree with immediate effect, without having to pass through the legislative process, and getting parliamentary approval," explains MP Benoit Piedboeuf.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has thus been credited with achieving the impossible. Ever since elections in May 2019, Belgium has been without a government. Even before that vote, the government coalition fell in December 2018. But this week saw political parties put their differences aside, and back the new emergency government.

But the story doesn't end there. The new team will be in place for a limited time only: three months that can be prolonged up to six months.

"In this period the coronavirus crisis is such, that urgent measures needs to be taken on health fields, but also on budget and also economic fields considering that we are in a totally unprecedented crisis," said Pierre Vercauteren, a political expert from the Catholic University of Louvain.

There will be a confidence vote at Belgium's parliament today (Thursday) and it is clear that the government will get enough votes.

But the Flemish nationalist party N-VA will vote against it, just a little reminder that the political crisis lurks around the corner.

"They are using and misusing the corona situation for other reasons that has nothing to do with corona," claims MP Peter de Roover.

The first act of the new government was to impose further restrictions on people's movement - meaning all non-essential outings should be kept to a minimum. But in a striking differences from Spain and France, Belgian authorities said that people can talk a walk outside, and also allow them to visit the local bookstores.

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