'No time to waste': Flemish mayors move to tighten coronavirus rules earlier

'No time to waste': Flemish mayors move to tighten coronavirus rules earlier
© Belga

Several mayors in Flanders are beating the regional government to the punch and advancing the entry into force of stricter coronavirus measures, saying there is no time to waste.

So far, the mayors of Ghent, Aarschot, Mechelen and Vilvoorde have all broken ranks with the regional government, saying they will not wait until Friday for new restrictions to come into force.

"As a mayor, I can't have a concert with 200 people going on tonight," Aarschot Mayor Gwendolyn Rutten told De Standaard.

Their move comes after Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon on Tuesday announced the cancellation of all events and the closure of museums and cultural venues to curb rising coronavirus infections in Flanders.

Jambon said the measures will come into force from Friday at 6:00 PM, triggering concerns that Flanders was trailing behind Brussels and Wallonia as the pandemic continued to rage through the country.

'If we have to, we go alone'

"There is no time to waste, the figures are rising quickly," Ghent Mayor Mathias de Clercq said, announcing the measures in his city would kick in from Thursday morning.

In Aarschot, Rutten is looking to enact the measures by Wednesday evening, less than 24 hours after they were announced Jambon.

"I ask on behalf of [the city of Aarschot] to bring forward the entry into force of the measures to tomorrow, Wednesday 6 pm," Rutten wrote on Twitter. "We would have preferred to do this in coordination with the rest of Flanders. But if we have to, we'll go alone. The virus is moving too fast."

The mayor of Vilvoorde, a municipality just outside Brussels, also said he would make the measures kick in earlier in efforts to catch up with the virus.

"Otherwise, we lose a lot of time," Mayor Hans Bonte said, adding that his municipality's close proximity to Brussels —where stricter measures have been in force for close to a week now— required swift action.

"Now that fitness centres in Brussels are closed, people come to work out in Vilvoorde or other suburbs," he said, adding that failing to act now would make them "lose a lot of time."

The city of Mechelen will also bring the measures into force by midnight in an effort to halt the spread of the virus faster, the acting mayor, Alexander Vandersmissen, said on Twitter.

De Croo summons regional leaders

Jambon's decision on Tuesday to tighten rules in Flanders came after he was hit by a string of criticism for failing to impose stricter rules after both Brussels and Wallonia launched a new wave of closures to rein in the spread of the virus.

As experts rose the alarm over the rapid hike of new infections in Belgium, triggering the imposition of new measures by the federal government, Jambon had said that Flanders would wait to see the effect of the nationwide measures before tightening rules further at the regional level.

On Wednesday, Jambon defended his decision to have the rules kick in only on Friday evening, saying that time was still needed to pen down the regulations and to allow the cultural sector to prepare.

"But let it be clear: nobody is banned from applying the measures right away," he said, the Belga news agency reports.

As Flanders became the last region to enact stricter coronavirus rules, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said that he would summon the regional leaders on Wednesday to go through the situation.

"Our citizens and businesses all have the right to clear and unambiguous rules for the whole the country," he said.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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