Izegem, 26 January. - The recent developments on Covid-19 have once again brought about a wave of sadness. Delays in vaccine production and a shortage of vaccination centres also contributed to the decision to keep the troubled hospitality sector closed for at least two more months. Hotels and catering establishments have meanwhile already been closed for 6 months. In an ideal world, we would be able to enjoy a beer without having to wait for the vaccination efforts to be ramped up. Is there another option? The West Flemish brewery behind the 'Strekenbier' beer - symbolised by the little rascal Filou - headed to the market in Izegem armed with a dose of fun and laughter to present the Flemish people with an alternative vaccination strategy. And in this strategy, the reopening of the hospitality sector was part of the plan. With a down-to-earth - and above all healthy - sense of humour, top virologist Marc Van Ranst also volunteered to pass on the message the brewery wanted to convey.
And nowadays, wherever Marc Van Ranst shows up, opinions tend to be divided. Some people immediately congratulate him for his contribution to the fight against the pandemic, while others are only too happy to have their picture taken with him, only to let slip 5 minutes later on Twitter how irresponsible they think it is for Marc to leave his house. That was no different at the market in Izegem, a large village in West Flanders where everyone knows everyone and an unannounced quick visit like this one immediately turns into world news. Just after 10 a.m., a small news crew showed up at the local weekly market. A camera man, a sound technician and actor Sam Louwyck, acting as the local reporter, turned up with virologist Marc Van Ranst. The market was set up in line with the strict Covid regulations, with an adapted route, several disinfection points, and stewards and police officers on site. Everyone was clearly following the Covid regulations to the letter. What better place to gauge opinions about the current vaccination strategy and the extended closure of the hospitality sector? And what better location than this to present an alternative vaccination strategy? You heard that right… It caused quite a stir, but in a good way!
The message was loud and clear: get vaccinated this year if you want to help the hospitality sector open up again.
As the majority of people at the market appeared concerned about the current vaccination strategy and described the extended closure of the hospitality industry as a serious social loss, reporter Sam Louwyck offered them an alternative, with a real poker face. That alternative comes straight from the production line of local brewery Vanhonsebrouck, where they managed to mix the vaccine with beer in secret, according to the reporter. The result of this successful secret mission? ‘Filou AC’ aka Filou Anti-COVID. One bottle of beer contains one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine; so you need two to be safe. “A win-win for everyone”, Marc Van Ranst expertly told the reporter. The vaccine production shortage can be compensated for by the brewery and by incorporating the vaccine into beer, hotels and catering esablishments can reopen as official vaccination centres. “Instead of a vaccination strategy that costs the government a lot of money, this alternative actually brings in money via the alcohol tax. And anti-vaxxers are unlikely to disagree, because, let’s face it, who would turn down a pint of lager in Flanders? The news crew also had a first load of doses with them, and they looked very credible. So much so that the majority of bystanders seemed to go along with it. “No more syringes, but a bottle of beer instead? Are there enough in stock?” said one of the bystanders. “Wow, and at what temperature should we store it, Mr Van Ranst?” asked another – somewhat more concerned – bystander. And then there were an impressive number of Izegem residents who thought this is a great initiative and immediately asked whether a wine and cava version will soon be available.
Having a laugh is healthy – necessary even – and that became clear when the interviewees were told this was an attempt at boosting everyone’s spirits and highlighting that we can only head to the pub for a pint once again if we all get vaccinated, so we need to keep strong and be patient just a little longer. Most of the market visitors immediately burst out laughing. One of them accused Van Ranst of being a double, while another described the virologist as “a bit like the beer brand’s Filou – or an even bigger rascal, but with a heart of gold.”
Even before the team had left the market via the designated exit, this remarkable visit went viral on Twitter. There, the virologist’s visit to Izegem – without the context being known – was immediately criticised, at times even with a political undertone. It all became clearer through a video that was released today. Van Ranst has a thick skin and put all of it into perspective: “Whoever is entrusted 24/7 with the task of lending his voice to bringing news that nobody wants to hear can also use that same voice to spread some fun and joy in difficult times. Humour and the ability to put things into perspective are what we need to get through this period without feeling completely embittered. Of course, that doesn’t work for everyone. Above all, I want to make it clear that we will overcome this together, no matter what, and that even
the reopening of the hospitality sector, which is the subject of much discussion today, cannot happen without us getting through this difficult period. It is no secret that I am committed to playful initiatives with a purpose, but always on a voluntary basis and never as a ‘brand ambassador’ as some articles have claimed. At the end of the day, I get criticised anyway, even when I step out of my house to empty my letterbox. It’s just part of the job.”