BRUSSELS — The law Belgium passed to handle the coronavirus pandemic is constitutional and could “serve as a legal basis in the event of possible future pandemics,” the Belgian Constitutional Court ruled Thursday.
The so-called pandemics law, adopted in August 2021, allows the government to enact a state of emergency in the event of an “epidemic,” i.e. when an infectious disease is likely to affect a large number of people within the country up to the point of, for instance, overloading the healthcare system.
It includes a range of lockdown measures that have been widely used in Europe during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as restricting entry into the country, limiting the freedom of assembly and closing some public spaces while keeping essential services open — as well as requiring people to work if needed.
Such a state of emergency can only be declared for up to three months, after which the government has to reassess the public health situation in the country.
“We’ve thoroughly prepared the future and, in the event of new pandemics, we’ll be ready, even if we obviously hope we will never have to implement it again,” Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden said of the ruling.
The strict measures elicited major protests throughout the country that sometimes turned violent as tens of thousands took to the streets and clashed with police.
Across Europe, constitutional courts have given varied rulings on the steps governments took to curb the virus.
In Spain, the top court ruled in 2021 that two different “states of alarm” declared by the government in March and November 2020 to implement a strict lockdown and a curfew were unconstitutional.
But in Germany, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled the government’s pandemic response — which included school closures and a curfew in the spring of 2021 — was legal and proportional due to the “extreme risk situation of the pandemic.”