Bars and restaurants in the Flemish coastal municipality of Middelkerke will soon be allowed to reopen their terraces, but people won't be allowed to use them in light of the current measures.
Ahead of the Easter break - when people are expected to flock to the coast as they cannot leave the country - mayor Jean-Marie Dedecker has said he will allow the cafés and restaurants in his commune to set up their terraces as of this week, and that he would also authorise the reinstallation of the beach bars.
The next step in the plan is to invite Prime Minister Alexander De Croo to see that the hospitality sector can safely reopen now.
"They will be able to see for themselves how absurd it is that people are allowed to come here in crowded trains, to pile up like sardines against each other in the coastal tram, to rest on an undisinfected bench, but are not allowed to sit on a disinfected chair on a terrace or in a beach bar," Dedecker explained on Flemish Television on Sunday.
According to him, a prolonged closure of the catering establishments would be a major financial loss for the coast.
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Speaking on the same channel, Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon said he does not support Dedecker's measure, despite previously calling for the sector to be allowed to reopen sooner. It is important to follow the rules that were decided, he explained.
According to Jambon, it is impossible to make an exception for the coast. "It's a reopening for all terraces in the whole country, or nothing," he said.
If all goes well, the hospitality sector could be able to open from 1 May, according to the Consultative Committee meeting. This reopening will be under strict conditions, including rapid and self-tests, with precise details to be worked out in the coming weeks.
However, on Monday afternoon, it was announced that the coastal mayors are looking into a proposal for a safe reopening during the Easter holidays, to avoid further chaos during the break.
"The intention is to consult with the hospitality sector and the coastal mayors about the various alternatives and solutions for the coast during the Easter holidays," provincial company Westtoer said, adding that they want to come to a joint proposal to bring to the Consultative Committee.
"The main idea here is to spread the crowd out, both in time and space," they said.
The next Consultative Committee meeting will be on 26 March, at which point measures – including the travel ban – can be adjusted if necessary.
Jules Johnston & Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times