Belgians 'not welcome' as Dutch city records rise in new coronavirus infections

Belgians 'not welcome' as Dutch city records rise in new coronavirus infections
Credit: M.Minderhoud/Wikimedia Commons

An "alarming" surge of new coronavirus infections in a Dutch city on the border with Belgium has seen the mayor declare that Belgians would no longer be welcome on its territory.

"Belgians are not welcome right now," Frank Petter, mayor of Bergen op Zoom, a town of some 66,000 inhabitants located just over a dozen kilometres from the Belgian border, said on Tuesday.

Petter said that the number of infections in the Dutch city had shot up in recent days, with officials recording a positivity rate of more than 14% from 956 tests administered in the first 9 days of August.

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"I think border traffic should be regulated, I am thinking of border controls, where only essential journeys are allowed," Petter said. "For that, I need the national government — as long as that border remains open, I can take all kinds of measures in Bergen op Zoom, but I'm just mopping up while the tap is running."

According to De Standaard, Petter said that, with nearly half of all new positive cases emerged in the Dutch-Moroccan community, city officials suspected that the recent celebrations of the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice had likely boosted the virus' circulation in the city.

"The Feast of Sacrifice, a week and a half ago, has most likely been the cause of many infections," he said. "We are now following-up on where all those people have been."

The mayor also said that his city's proximity to the Belgian province of Antwerp —which is entering its third week of a late-night curfew imposed to curb a soaring rate of new coronavirus infections— could help explain the jump in local infections.

In late July, the Netherlands banned all non-essential travel to the province of Antwerp, but, according to Belgium's travel guidelines, residents from the province of Antwerp can travel to the Netherlands but most go into 14-day quarantine, with residents of other areas of Belgium allowed in without condition.

Local authorities in Bergen op Zoom have not rolled out specific measures but will focus on checks and enforcement of current regulations, with the situation set to be reevaluated Tuesday.

Petter is reportedly also exploring the possibility of banning people from the Antwerp province from being served in the city's restaurants, bars and cafés.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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