The mayor of Ghent is capping the size of crowds allowed into a student neighbourhood in the city after students packed the area and flouted coronavirus rules on the first night out of the new academic year.
Ghent Mayor Mathias De Clercq said that no more than 2,000 people at a time could be admitted into Overpoortstraat, a street lined with bars and nighttime establishments to which students flock after school.
On Monday night throngs of students packed the street, crowding bar terraces and sidewalks with many flouting social distancing rules or not wearing a face mask.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, bars in the street have deployed sprawled their terraces onto the sidewalk in an effort to provide more space for clients to social distance.
The gathering ultimately prompted police to step in to uphold regulations at around 10:30 PM, even if they did not immediately clear students out, reportedly allowing bars to issue a last-drinks call by 12:30 AM at the latest.
“That [call] was well followed, a little after 1:00 AM the street was empty,” police told De Morgen.
“It was not okay in Overpoortstraat last night, it was busy and not all students followed the guidelines,” De Clercq said of the student gathering, which coincided with the first day of reopening of Flemish universities.
De Clercq’s move will mean that bar and business owners in the street will not be allowed to serve more people that they can sit at a table, a measure that he said police will be around to enforce.
“Students have to realise that they also have a responsibility,” he said. “What happened last night is really not worth repeating.”
De Clercq said that despite the city adapting regulations to help bar owners live through the crisis, he would “not hesitate” to close down the student neighbourhood if future violations are observed.