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Flanders’ latest rules for Christmas explained

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The different provincial governors in Flanders have taken their own actions to enforce the federal coronavirus measures over the Christmas and New Year period.

As no changes to the current measures are expected from the Consultative Committee next week, the provinces are mainly focusing on police checks to strictly enforce the existing rules.

Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden, however, already made clear that a general rule across Belgium is that police will be able to enter people’s homes if they have reason to believe people are violating the measures.

“If there is a serious threat to physical integrity, which could happen in the event of the spread of the coronavirus, the police could enter [homes] without a search warrant,” she said.

Antwerp
Following a meeting with Antwerp’s mayors, provincial governor Cathy Berx decided to ban door-to-door singing for New Year and Epiphany (6 January) due to the coronavirus.

Handing out sweets or other small gifts is also banned, Berx said, adding that the police zones in the province will strictly monitor these measures.

Things such as “how many people will be gathered in the houses” and “how many pizzas will be delivered” will be checked, Berx explained.

“We have to make sure that there are no gatherings, and that we get the infection numbers down together,” she said.

“It is not the intention to wish people good health for the new year while at the same time running the risk of infecting them,” Berx added.

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West Flanders
Across the province, police will organise strict controls during the holiday period, the West Flemish police zones, public prosecutors and provincial governor Carl Decaluwé agreed on Thursday.

There will be a zero-tolerance policy for violating the rules, he said, adding that “the time for warnings is completely over.”

“If you have to wear a face mask in a busy shopping street and you don’t, you are immediately fined €250.”

“The figures in West Flanders are heading in the wrong direction, and the reproduction rate is the highest in Belgium,” Decaluwé announced. “The rules really have to be followed. Zero tolerance for those who do not do that is the only way to avoid a third wave of infections, in my opinion. We have to be strict.”

All police zone have been told to use their maximum capacity, with extra attention for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, according to Decaluwé.

East Flanders
“The police forces in our provinces have, of course, been enforcing the measures for some time now, and they will keep doing that during the end-of-year period as well,” Sarah De Moor, spokesperson for East Flanders’ governor Carina Van Cauter, told The Brussels Times.

“However, we are also aware that the holidays are coming up, and next week Tuesday, the governor will meet with the different police forces, as well as the public prosecutors to coordinate the approaches,” she added.

In the meantime, the measures that were announced at the federal level will be enforced as strictly as possible, to keep the figures under control.

Flemish Brabant
While the different police zones in the Flemish Brabant province will enforce the rules “very strictly,” according to governor Jan Spooren, there will be no extra controls during the holiday period.

“The enforcement in our province is already very strict, and the police are issuing a raft of fines. We will continue these efforts in the coming weeks,” he said.

“On top of that, of course, we cannot suddenly deploy more officers than we have available,” Spooren added.

He also called on citizens to follow the measures on Christmas and New Year’s, too, “for the good of everyone” and to prevent the curve from rising again.

Limburg
Drones will fly over municipalities across the Limburg province during the end-of-year celebrations to ensure that the coronavirus regulations are followed.

The police zone of Carma will deploy the drones to facilitate enforcement of the coronavirus ban on setting off fireworks, in particular.

Additionally, a megaphone-equipped drone will be among the fleet, so the police can transmit warnings to those found or suspected to be breaking the rules.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times