Coronavirus hits Belgian government coalition talks

BRUSSELS (AP) — A key negotiator trying to cobble together a Belgian coalition government has tested positive for COVID-19, co-negotiator Conner Rousseau said Wednesday, dampening hopes that one of the country’s longest political impasses could be broken soon

Dutch-speaking Liberal Egbert Lachaert has the coronavirus, forcing key politicians from six other center-left and center-right parties to resort to video conferencing as they try to hammer out a government program. Later Wednesday, Rousseau said the other six party leaders tested negative.

Rousseau said in a Tweet that everyone “is sticking to the quarantine rules while we work at a distance to find solutions for our country.” He added there will be no formal physical meetings ahead of Sept. 18.

Belgium currently has a minority government led by Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes, which has wide backing from opposition parties as its core program is limited to battling the pandemic.

Attempts to form a majority coalition with full powers have been unsuccessful since the May 2019 elections. There had been hopes that Lachaert could bring together a coalition of socialists, liberals, greens and Christian Democrats by Sep. 17 but the positive test will make that difficult.

COVID-19 cases had been on the wane for weeks in Belgium before a slight resurgence last week, although at far lower rates that the initial spike in March.

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