Federal home affairs minister Pieter De Crem has stepped in to correct an instruction given by the governor of Limburg province allowing residents of the province to cross the border into the Netherlands.
As Belgium this weekend relaxes its lockdown measures to allow people to visit each other at home under strict conditions, Limburg governor Michel Carlier went one step further: residents of Limburg could also slip across the border to visit friends and family in Dutch provinces bordering Limburg, including the Dutch province of the same name.
For anyone else from Belgium, a visit to the Netherlands is only possible with special permission or a document justifying the trip, and there is a risk of being turned back on the way, or ordered into a fortnight’s quarantine on return.
So the governor’s interpretation of the rules seemed unusually generous. And so it turned out to be.
Under the existing rules, Carlier pointed out, it was allowed for Belgian residents in Limburg – many of whom have family over the frontier – to cross the border in connection with co-parenting, a relationship or a business delivery.
“I don’t see why there shouldn’t be a social rule for the Dutch Limburgers living in our country,” Carlier said.
The reason, De Crem pointed out, is that the rules are laid out in a royal decree, which applies to the whole country. All of the Belgian provinces apart from the two Brabants border the Netherlands, Luxembourg or France, so why would Limburg be the exception?
“The National Security Council has decided that an opinion is first required from the scientific experts preparing the exit,” said a spokesperson for De Crem. “We will make a political decision, based on scientific advice, with a correct estimate of the possible consequences. It is a difficult period for everyone with family on the other side of the border. We understand that, but for the time being those movements are not possible.”
Professor Erika Vlieghe, who chairs the GEES group of experts planning the country’s exit strategy, warned against relaxing the rules on confinement too quickly.
“It’s dangerous, and it’s really not a good idea. We get the feeling that everything is suddenly more relaxed, but we still have to put the brakes on. That is not nice, but too many people who see each other at the same time is not safe. The virus is still among us, so of course that increases the chance of a second wave coming quickly, and with it the chance that we have to go into reverse.”