Police officers do not have the legal right to check people’s Covid Safe Tickets (CST), meaning that it will be easier for people to use expired or forged health passes.
A circular for police services and public prosecutors’ offices from the College of Procurators General that was sent to police and public prosecutors across Belgium stated that police could no longer carry out checks.
“We are not allowed to scan the CSTs of individuals to check they are valid or check whether they have a CST in the first place,” the Brussels Capital Ixelles police zone’s spokesperson, Ilse Van de keere, told The Brussels Times.
However, she stressed that police officers can still carry out checks to ensure that the owners of an establishment or the organiser of an event where the use of the CST is mandatory is checking their clients or attendees to ensure they have valid health passes.
Ine Van Wymersch of the public prosecutor’s office of Halle-Vilvoorde said that CST checks will still continue as police can still check whether the overall system is being implemented.
“Agents can also ask customers whether they are carrying a CST that matches the name on their identity card. Agents may not scan, but they can ask the clients if they have been scanned,” she told Belga News Agency.
Not official scanners
This circular was distributed because the Royal Decree on the coronavirus measures published on 14 July does not name officers as ‘scan controllers’, according to reports from Het Nieuwsblad.
According to sources close to the matter, the government did not “forget” to include police officers as official CST checkers; this was done on purpose as it was recognised that their core task is not to implement public health measures.
This means that, aside from restaurant owners and event organisers, health inspectors will be the only other people who can legally perform the scan checks.
However, as there are few of these to carry out checks – which is why the help of police officers was called on in the first place – there are fears that the official inspections will become too sporadic for them to serve any purpose.
This news has resulted in various police sources indicating they have no more faith in the effectiveness of the system, according to Carlo Medo of the police union NSPV.
“We were already short of staff for those scan checks and so were not in demand. But now that we can no longer check in a simple way whether someone – a restaurant owner or proprietor – is cheating, we wonder what the point is. So we might as well abolish the CST,”
Meanwhile, virologist Marc Van Ranst has expressed concern regarding these reports, saying this is “an erosion of a system that was already not watertight.”
“If the police can no longer carry out proper checks, the system may become too non-committal and the question may arise as to whether the government should not devise other measures to deal with this pandemic, for that is the objective, of course.”
Existing fines in the bin?
It remains unclear what this will mean for fines that have already been handed out to people who visited a restaurant despite not being vaccinated or having a positive test result, or if their CSTs were no longer valid or had been forged.
One Brussels police zone, which had already drawn up dozens of reports regarding such felonies, said these will have to go into the bin.
“If the official reports only mention an offence based on a scan by police officers, we will have to classify them without consequences,” Brussels public prosecutor Sarah Durant said, adding that it is not possible at the moment to say how many official reports will be dismissed.