As the confinement goes on, more and more people are being caught and fined for breaking the rules, according to the country’s prosecutors.
The main problem areas are non-essential journeys and the rule against gatherings.
The warning comes from Erwin Dernicourt, president of the college of prosecutors-general, which represents senior prosecutors from across the country. He described to De Tijd what he described as “a spectacular increase” in the number of fines being handed out by police.
On Thursday this week, for example, there were 2,301 fine notices given out, a record for a single day, bringing the total since the outbreak of the coronavirus to 20,694.
“During the recent Easter weekend is was very difficult for people to stay indoors,” he said. “We have come to realise they are not yet completely put off by the fines the police are handing out.”
In the beginning, when the measures were first announced, some police actions were considered over-zealous, until prosecutors’ offices advised police to use discretion in issuing fines.
Now, Dernicourt said, police are acting consistently across the country, and the increase in offences cannot be attributed to an increase in police activity. The increase is simply a sign that more people are breaking the rules, he said.
This week police in Brussels reported the arrest of a youth who had been issued a total of 14 fine notices, who will now appear in court. Dernicourt warned that repeat offenders need not go so far before appearing in front of a judge.
“I hope that the people who received a fine last weekend will not now commit another offence if the weather is fine. I want them to understand that the circular sent round by the prosecutors-general clearly states that a second offence will see the person automatically sent before a court.”
Fines have already been collected to a value of €106,000, and there are still fines worth more than €1.2 million outstanding.
“If citizens do not follow the rules, we will end up with two million euros in fines or even more by the end of this month. That’s a serious bite out of people’s wallets. I hope in the coming week we will see a decrease in the number of fine notices, and that the message will gradually hit home.”
One positive note: most people appear to accept their guilt when caught breaking the rules. In one sample, only 6% of those caught disputed the fine, while 10% paid up on the spot. The rest are given time to pay the fixed penalty or face a higher fine.