With Dr Felicity Nicholson
There are no official vaccination requirements for entry into Flanders and no serious health issues to worry about. However, it is best to be up to date with the vaccinations recommended for Britain such as diphtheria, tetanus and polio – now given as the all-in-one vaccine Revaxis – that last for ten years and MMR. There has been an increase in the number of cases of measles in Europe so ensure that you have either had measles, mumps and rubella (the diseases) or have had two doses of the MMR vaccine. Other vaccinations would include hepatitis B for health-care workers, plus influenza and pneumococcal vaccines for the elderly and those at special risk. If you are walking in long grass, check yourself for ticks afterwards; they may carry Lyme disease which manifests as a rash accompanied by a fever, headache, neck stiffness, painful muscles and joints, swollen lymph glands and fatigue. It is treatable with antibiotics if it is recognised at an early stage.
Flanders is safe to visit. Like most places there are instances of bag-snatching, pickpocketing and very rarely mugging, and you should be vigilant if walking late at night in the vicinity of Brussel Zuid/Bruxelles Midi and Brussel Noord/Bruxelles Nord railway stations. As long as you aren’t flashing huge sums of cash or leaving valuables exposed in the back seat of your car, you shouldn’t encounter any problems. Nonetheless it’s a good idea to make photocopies of your important documents, and to store them separately from the originals.
There have been a number of high-profile attacks in recent years conducted by terrorists linked to Daesh, most notably on 22 March 2016, when coordinated attacks killed 32 and injured hundreds at Brussels Airport Zaventem and on the capital’s metro system. Brussels’s profile as the ‘capital’ of Europe and HQ to numerous international institutions like NATO and the EU will continue to make it vulnerable, but with a stepped-up police presence at transport hubs and in major cities, there’s absolutely no reason to avoid travelling to Belgium or to feel unsafe once there. In fact, it’s worth taking a leaf out of locals’ notebooks: in the wake of an anti-terror lockdown in Brussels, when requested not to give away the police’s positions, residents took to posting (often defiant) pictures of cats online instead!