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35 years - and still going strong!

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The year 1986 was marked by both advances and setbacks. Technology advances helped the Soviet Union launch the Mir Space Station and had the UK and France building the Chunnel. Sadly, it also saw the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and the explosion of one of the nuclear reactors at Chernobyl.

In Belgium, the country’s footballers came home to a hero’s welcome after finishing 4th in the Mexico World Cup.

The year was also notable for one other event: the opening of L’Orchidee Blanche in Brussels, now one of the acknowledged best Vietnamese restaurants in the country.

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Back in 1986, when Katia Nguyen (pictured) opened the restaurant in what was then a quiet Brussels neighbourhood, she could not have realised what a huge success it would be.

This year, the restaurant marks its 35th anniversary, a real milestone,  and it has come a long in the intervening years, so much so  that it is now a byword for fine Asian cuisine, not just in this now-bustling area of Brussels but further afield.

Indeed, word had spread so far about the quality of the excellent Vietnamese food available here that, a few years ago, it was awarded the prestige title of “Best Asian Restaurant in Belgium” by the renowned food guide, Gault and Millau.

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Katia is the first to accept that her success also owes a lot to her team, who just happen to be all-female (this partly reflects the traditional role women occupy in the Vietnamese kitchen).

The longest serving among them is Trinh, who has been dishing up wonderful Vietnamese meals in the small, open-plan kitchen her for a couple of decades now, while other “veteran” staff members include Huong, who has been here 15 years and Linh, a  relative newcomer having worked here for four years!

They, along with their colleagues, are beautifully dressed in authentic Vietnamese costumes,something else the resto is famous for. To hold on to staff for so long also reflects well on the excellent management style of Katia.

It is all a long way from the days, back in the 1970s, when Katia first arrived in this country for her studies. Like so many of her compatriots she had fled the Vietnam war in search of a better life in the West and she set about starting a new life in her “new” home – Belgium.

For connoisseurs of great Vietnamese food that was, well, rather good news.

The standard set when Katia, still relatively freshly arrived in Belgium from Saigon, opened the restaurant back in 1986 is just as high today as it was then.

Despite the awful health pandemic that has wrought havoc in the hospitality sector here, Katia’s “army” of loyal customers are now flooding back to sample the wonderful delights concocted by her highly talented, Vietnamese-born team.

The restaurant is located close to the ULB university and everything here is prepared in house. The dishes are based on either traditional or more contemporary recipes but similar to the best you might find in Vietnam itself. Many diners here consider the spring rolls the best in Belgium but if they are succulent, the gourmet riches of this house take you on a culinary journey, stretching from North to South Vietnam and all stops in between.

The restaurant never really closed during the lockdowns as it continued to serve a brisk takeaway service. Now fully reopened, takeaways account for about 30 per cent of the business. Customers can either collect their order or have it delivered to their home/office.

With summer upon us, it’s good to know there is now a terrace seating up to 20 people on the street outside while, at the back, is a pleasant outside area with space for about 30 and open until October.

Inside, the restaurant seats 38 people downstairs and 32 upstairs. There is also a great value-for-money, two course, lunch menu, costing just €13, which is particularly popular.

The a la carte choice is huge and features a range of meat,fish and poultry dishes – all are fabulous and very tasty. There’s also a great drinks and wine list and look out too for a lovely suggestions menu which changes weekly.

The charming and very welcoming Katia has come a very long way since she first set foot in Belgium. For a restaurant still to be thriving 35 years after it opened is a massive achievement, particularly in this “post-pandemic” era but for that same place to have been under the same ownership all that time is quite remarkable… which, actually, also very accurately describes both the cuisine and service here.

Happy 35th birthday L’Orchidee Blanche!

Belgium

EU Cohesion policy: Belgium, Germany, Spain and Italy receive €373 million to support health and social services, SMEs and social inclusion

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The Commission has granted €373 million to five European Social Fund (ESF) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) operational programmes (OPs) in Belgium, Germany, Spain and Italy to help the countries with coronavirus emergency response and repair in the framework of REACT-EU. In Belgium, the modification of the Wallonia OP will make available an additional €64.8m for the acquisition of medical equipment for health services and innovation.

The funds will support small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in developing e-commerce, cybersecurity, websites and online stores, as well as the regional green economy through energy efficiency, protection of the environment, development of smart cities and low-carbon public infrastructures. In Germany, in the Federal State of Hessen, €55.4m will support health-related research infrastructure, diagnostic capacity and innovation in universities and other research institutions as well as research, development and innovation investments in the fields of climate and sustainable development. This amendment will also provide support to SMEs and funds for start-ups through an investment fund.

In Sachsen-Anhalt, €75.7m will facilitate cooperation of SMEs and institutions in research, development and innovation, and provide investments and working capital for micro-enterprises affected by the coronavirus crisis. Moreover, the funds will allow investments in the energy efficiency of enterprises, support digital innovation in SMEs and acquiring digital equipment for schools and cultural institutions. In Italy, the national OP ‘Social Inclusion' will receive €90m to promote the social integration of people experiencing severe material deprivation, homelessness or extreme marginalisation, through ‘Housing First' services that combine the provision of immediate housing with enabling social and employment services.

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In Spain, €87m will be added to the ESF OP for Castilla y León to support the self-employed and workers who had their contracts suspended or reduced due to the crisis. The money will also help hard-hit companies avoid layoffs, especially in the tourism sector. Finally, the funds are needed to allow essential social services to continue in a safe way and to ensure educational continuity throughout the pandemic by hiring additional staff.

REACT-EU is part of NextGenerationEU and provides €50.6bn additional funding (in current prices) to Cohesion policy programmes over the course of 2021 and 2022. Measures focus on supporting labour market resilience, jobs, SMEs and low-income families, as well as setting future-proof foundations for the green and digital transitions and a sustainable socio-economic recovery.

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Climate change made deadly floods in Western Europe at least 20% more likely - study

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A house hit by a landslide is seen after heavy rain caused flooding in towns surrounding Lake Como in northern Italy, in Laglio, Italy. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo

Climate change has made extreme rainfall events of the kind that sent lethal torrents of water hurtling through parts of Germany and Belgium last month at least 20% more likely to happen in the region, scientists said Tuesday, writes Isla Binnie, Reuters.

The downpour was likely made heavier by climate change as well. A day of rainfall can now be up to 19% more intense in the region than it would have been had global atmospheric temperatures not risen by 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.16 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial temperatures, according to research published by the World Weather Attribution (WWA) scientific consortium.

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"We will definitely get more of this in a warming climate," said the group's co-leader Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at the University of Oxford.

"Extreme weather is deadly," said Otto, recalling that she urgently contacted family members who live in the affected areas to make sure they were safe when the floods hit. "For me it was very close to home."

With extreme weather events dominating news headlines in recent years, scientists have been under increasing pressure to determine exactly how much climate change is to blame.

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During the last year alone, scientists found that U.S. drought, a deadly Canadian heat wave and wildfires across the Siberian Arctic have been worsened by a warming atmosphere.

The July 12-15 rainfall over Europe triggered flooding that swept away houses and power lines, and left more than 200 people dead, mostly in Germany. Dozens died in Belgium and thousands were also forced to flee their homes in the Netherlands. Read more.

"The fact that people are losing their lives in one of the richest countries in the world -- that is truly shocking," said climate scientist Ralf Toumi at the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, who was not involved in the study. "Nowhere is safe."

Although the deluge was unprecedented, the 39 WWA scientists found that local rainfall patterns are highly variable.

So they conducted their analysis over a wider area spanning parts of France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland. They used local weather records and computer simulations to compare the July flooding event with what might have been expected in a world unaffected by climate change.

Because warmer air holds more moisture, summer downpours in this region are now 3-19% heavier than they would be without global warming, the scientists found.

And the event itself was anywhere from 1.2 to 9 times -- or 20% to 800% -- more likely to have occurred.

That broad range of uncertainty was partly explained by a lack of historical records, WWA explained, and worsened by the floods destroying equipment that monitored river conditions. Read more.

Still, the "study confirms that global heating has played a big part in the flooding disaster," said Stefan Rahmstorf, a scientist and oceanographer at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who was not involved in the study.

"This is in line with the finding of the recent IPCC report, which found that extreme rainfall events have increased worldwide," he added, referring to a U.N. climate panel's findings. Read more.

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Belgium

Seven residents of Belgian nursing home die after outbreak of B.1.621 lineage of COVID-19

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Seven residents of a nursing home in Belgium have died after being infected with a lineage of the coronavirus first detected in Colombia despite being fully vaccinated, the virology team that conducted tests said on Friday (6 August), writes Sabine Siebold, Reuters.

The virology team said the residents had been infected with the B.1.621 lineage of COVID-19 that originated in Colombia and has been detected in recent weeks in the United States but cases in Europe have been rare.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has listed the B1.621 lineage as part of the Kappa variant of the coronavirus, but not as a variant itself.

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The seven people who died at the nursing home in the Belgian town of Zaventem, near Brussels, were all in their 80s or 90s, and some of them were already in a poor physical condition, said Marc Van Ranst, a virologist at the University of Leuven which conducted tests on the virus found at the nursing home.

"It is worrisome," Van Ranst said, commenting on the fact that the residents died despite being fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

So far, scientists do not know if the B.1.621 lineage is more transmissible than other lineages or variants of the coronavirus, he said.

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In Belgium, B.1.621 currently accounts for less than 1% of known cases of COVID-19, he said, compared to 2% of cases in the United States and more than that in Florida.

At the nursing home in Zaventem, 21 residents were infected with the variant along with several members of staff, Van Ranst told Reuters. The infected staff experienced only mild symptoms.

Van Ranst said the dominant coronavirus variant in Belgium with around 95% of infections is the Delta, first discovered in India, followed by the Alpha that was previously dominant in Britain.

Additional tests will be run on Friday to rule out any possibility that the nursing home residents died from a different variant of the virus or a different respiratory disease, Van Ranst said.

"It is unlikely but not impossible," he said.

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