Brussels police can’t enforce closing times because they don’t know them
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Brussels police can’t enforce closing times because they don’t know them

Credit: Belga

Brussels police officers have been left unable to enforce the early closing times – as part of the coronavirus measures – in the city because they have no way of defining what is allowed to be open, and what isn’t.

Under the new rules in force, restaurants (and resto-bars) are allowed to remain open until 1:00 AM, but bars and cafes must close at 11:00 PM. The focus of the measure, announced by Brussels’ regional government following a rapid rise in coronavirus cases, is mainly on establishments serving alcoholic drinks.

“The problem we are currently having is that we do not have a list of businesses that are officially considered cafés and businesses that are restaurants,” a spokesperson for the Brussels-Capital Ixelles police zone, Ilse Van de Keere, told Bruzz. “That is why we are monitoring the hygiene measures in particular: are customers wearing face masks when they walk around, are they not dancing, are they keeping enough distance?”

Entering into the second week of enforcement, police say they have begun writing up official reports after an initial phase of building awareness. Without any official guide to what should and should not be open, however, it is proving to be difficult to make any meaningful progress.

“For the police, it is not obvious every time a change is introduced,” Van de Keere said.

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Currently, there is no tool in place that can help officers make the distinction between a cafe and a restaurant, according to the cabinet of Minister-President of the Brussels-Capital Region, Rudi Vervoort.

“For us, that distinction is very clear, however. A business is only a restaurant if, effectively, there is a kitchen in which meals are cooked. A bar that also serves snacks is not one of them,” Vervoort’s said. A Regional Security Council will take place on 6 October, in which the police zones can communicate their issues.

During the weekend, several police zones also call in extra checks, precisely because the hospitality industry gets busier then. The Brussels-Midi police zone even deploys special Covid-19 patrols, with a minimum of two patrols per division.

However, the problem does not seem to occur to the same extent in Brussels’ other police zones, where the concentration of bars and restaurants is lower than in the Brussels Capital Ixelles zone.

In the Brussels-West area and the police zone of Schaerbeek, Evere and Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, only two or three cafés that had not respected the earlier closing time.

Additionally, even though the police zones have started issuing fines, they are also still raising awareness about the closing time, as well as about the mandatory wearing of face masks.

“We are not going to check whether everyone actually has a face mask with them. That would lead to too much of a hunt,” Van de Keere said, adding that people who break the rules repeatedly will be dealt with more severely.

“Sometimes people still make mistakes, but we do not blame them for that. Even our own officers have to regularly check whether or not a mask is compulsory in a particular street,” she added.

Jules Johnston & Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times