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Coronavirus likely to affect Belgium Poppy Remembrance appeal



It is feared that the health pandemic could affect this year's Remembrance Sunday commemorations in Belgium. The coronavirus crisis is likely to have a financial impact on the local Poppy Appeal, given that it is feared the public may well be cautious about the risks of touching collection tins and the poppies themselves. 

Even so, the Legion's Brussels branch plans to go ahead with holding a social distanced/masked ceremony at Heverlee Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at Leuven on 8 November (11am).

This will be in the presence of British Ambassador Martin Shearman, UK Ambassador to NATO Dame Sarah Macintosh, as well as top brass from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Poland, and Belgium.

Belgian rules currently allow for the event to proceed.

The Brussels branch, which celebrates its centenary in 2022, will be represented by Zoe White MBE (pictured), a former major in the British Army and the first female chair in its history.

White joined the international staff at NATO HQ in Brussels as an executive officer in 2017. She said she moved to NATO "to develop my political knowledge of defence and security matters and, most importantly, to continue to serve in an organization whose ethos and values I truly believe in."

She entered the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 2000, after a short stint in her home unit, the Royal Gibraltar Regiment. She was commissioned into the Royal Signals and served in the Army for 17 years.

White has considerable operational experience. She deployed to Kosovo on Op Agricola, Iraq on Op Telic (three times), Afghanistan on Op Herrick (three times) and Northern Ireland on Op Banner (for two years).

She specialized in providing lifesaving measures to counter radio controlled explosive devices and was awarded the MBE for her work in Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.

During her last nine-month operational tour of Afghanistan she was embedded with the US Marine Corps and among other tasks, was responsible for mentoring and training the communications directors across the local uniformed services (Army, Police, Border Patrol) in Helmand - a role, she says, that taught her much about the value of authentic dialogue (and left her with a love of cardamom tea and dates).

Looking back at her military career, she says: "I was privileged to command soldiers who were technical experts and absolute forces of nature. It was a joy to serve with them."

A self-confessed "defence geek", Zoe studied Battlespace Technology at Cranfield University where she expanded her knowledge of heavy armour and "exquisite" weaponry.  She is currently studying for an MBA in her spare time.

Zoe, whose husband David is also a retired Royal Signals officer ,was elected Chair of the Brussels branch of the Royal British Legion in September 2020, succeeding Commodore Darren Bone RN. She is the first female chair of the branch since its launch in 1922.

The Prince of Wales and future King Edward VIII met founding members of the branch in June 1922.

White adds, “I am delighted to take custody of the Branch chair role. It is both a way to meaningfully continue my service to veterans and those still serving, and to continue the tradition of Remembrance in a country where so many made the ultimate sacrifice for the lives we live today.”

Branch website & contact details. 


Commission approves €434 million wage subsidy scheme to support Belgian companies affected by coronavirus outbreak



The European Commission has approved a €434 million Belgian wage subsidy scheme to support companies that have had to suspend their activities due to new emergency measures put in place by the Government to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The scheme was approved under the state aid Temporary Framework.

The scheme will be open to companies in the hospitality, culture, recreation and events, sports, holiday parks and campsites sectors, as well as travel agencies, tour operators and touristic information services. The measure also applies to some of their suppliers, subject to the condition that they have suffered a significant decrease in turnover as a result of their clients' compulsory shutdown.

The public support will take the form of direct grants, of an amount corresponding to the social security contributions due by the employers between July and September 2020. The scheme aims at avoiding lay-offs and helping the beneficiaries resume their business activities after the compulsory shutdown period.

The Commission found that the Belgian scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, the support (i) will be granted to companies that are particularly affected by the coronavirus outbreak; (ii) will not exceed 80% of the gross salary of the benefitting personnel in the relevant 3-month period; and (iii) is subject to the condition that the employers commit not to lay off the relevant personnel during the three months following the granting of the aid. The Commission concluded that the scheme is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework.

On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.59297 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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Belgium's care homes violate human rights: Rights group



Basic human rights of elderly people in care homes in Belgium have been violated during the coronavirus pandemic, a rights group said in a report. According to Amnesty International report on nursing homes in Belgium, the country's authorities “abandoned” elderly people in nursing homes and they died "early" due to lack of sufficient health care, writes Busra Nur Bilgic Cakmak.

The report - prepared through interviews with people in nursing homes, employees, and managers in March-October - said 61% of those who died in this period in the country were those who stayed in nursing homes. In Belgium, with a population of 11.4 million, 535,000 cases and more than 14,000 deaths have been recorded since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the report, authorities delayed taking measures to protect elderly people who are staying in nursing homes. The report also argued that until August, the test capacity was insufficient for employees in nursing homes, who served without adequate protective equipment for a long time.

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Belgium launches COVID patient air-lifts to Germany




Belgium’s surging second wave of COVID-19 cases has forced it to move some severely ill patients, many on ventilators, to neighbouring Germany, and air ambulances began flying Belgian patients further into the country on Tuesday (3 November), write Philip Blenkinsop and .

The helicopter operator transports each COVID sufferer inside a giant transparent plastic bag connected to medical devices. Most of the transferred patients are intubated and on ventilators.

Belgium had among the highest death tolls per capita from the first coronavirus wave in March-April, and now has Europe’s highest per capita number of confirmed new infections, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

The country of 11 million people has 7,231 COVID patients in hospital, 1,302 of them in intensive care and local hotspots, such as the eastern city of Liege, have seen the capacity of intensive care beds being reached.

Ambulances began taking patients across the border last week and have so far transferred 15. Air ambulance helicopters started transferring patients deeper into Germany from Tuesday.

Olivier Pirotte, operations coordinator for the Centre Medical Heliporte (helicopter medical centre), said air transport was required to minimise the travel time for patients.

A trip such as to the German city of Muenster would take at least three hours by road, but can be done up to three times faster by air, and with fewer shocks to the patient such as from road bumps.

Martin Kotthaus, Germany’s ambassador to Belgium, said a mechanism had been set up to allow Belgian patients to transfer to hospitals in the German state North Rhine-Westphalia, where there is more spare capacity.

“In the first wave, Germany had more than 230 patients from Italy, France and the Netherlands. Now we are extending our help to Belgium,” he told Reuters. “But in the future, it might be Germans who would have to come to Belgium.”

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