Anyone found ignoring the new instructions issued by the government to tackle the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19) could face prosecution, according to Ine Van Wymersch, public prosecutor for Halle-Vilvoorde.
“Anyone who fails to keep to the rules is putting public health in serious danger,” she told VRT radio.
Today at midday the new lockdown comes into force: people are instructed to leave the house only when absolutely necessary, to avoid all gatherings and to respect social distancing.
At the same time, all non-essential shops are to close, and businesses are told to allow teleworking as far as possible.
For businesses, sanctions are already in place for offenders, ranging from a warning to an order to shut down completely.
But prosecutors are warning that members of the public will also be subject to sanction for ignoring the rules.
“It’s only a small minority that doesn’t stick to the rules,” Van Wymersch said. “But they are putting a very large group of people in danger. We can’t let that happen.”
To begin with, police will restrict themselves to explaining the new rules and giving advice. Repeat offenders, however, could face an on-the-spot fine or even be taken to court.
The basis for the actions is a law on civil security from 2007.
“I’ve never known it to be applied, but it is still applicable,” she said.
“It carries a prison term of up to three months and a fine that can go up to €4,000. That may not seem like much, but it is a correctional judgement which goes on your criminal record.”
Cathy Berx, governor of Antwerp province, confirmed her intention to police the new rules.
“Gatherings of more than two people are forbidden. You can only go outside with someone from your family or one other person, but you still have to keep a distance of one and a half metres,” she said. “The only exception is a funeral.”
The main way of enforcing the rules is by appealing to people’s good sense, she stressed.
“It is important for people to keep to the rules of their own accord, but that’s happening too little at the moment. The police are there to make sure the rules are being followed. And if you don’t, you risk a fine or even a prison sentence,” she said.
“It is of vital importance that people keep to the agreement.”