'Do not come for a while': Dutch mayors concerned over non-essential trips from Belgium

'Do not come for a while': Dutch mayors concerned over non-essential trips from Belgium
A shopping street in Sluis, in the Netherlands. © Belga

Dutch authorities will begin discouraging non-essential trips by Belgians, after noting that many were crossing the borders to escape coronavirus rules on non-essential activities in their hometowns, such as shopping.

Mayors in Zeeland, the southernmost province of Netherlands, have said they are "concerned" to see citizens from Belgium and Germany flock into their region with little awareness of local coronavirus measures.

"Not only us, but also our minister, are concerned because we are being overwhelmed in the border regions by citizens from other countries who are not aware of the measures here," said Jan Lonink, mayor of Terneuzen, located around a dozen kilometres from the Belgian border.

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"We really like you Belgians, and we don't want to close the borders. So just don't come to do shopping or sports here for a while," he said.

"Because we also notice, for example, that in the gyms in Terneuzen there are many Belgians coming," he said, also expressing frustration over the fact that some Belgian residents stopped following some rules the moment they crossed the border.

"We notice that many Belgians take their masks off at the border. We find it incomprehensible that people do what is not allowed in their country when they are across the border," he said.

Wearing a mask in public is encouraged but not mandatory in the Netherlands.

All non-essential shops, gyms and sporting venues have been shut down in Belgium after the government introduced a second lockdown to fight soaring coronavirus infections.

Lonink said that Dutch authorities were seeking to have a "very low" infection rate by December, expressing concern over Belgium's soaring infection rate, which he said were "three to four times higher than hours."

On Wednesday, which marked Armistice Day, several Flemish residents were seen shopping in the Netherlands, including one Flemish mayor. Armistice Day is a bank holiday in Belgium but not in the Netherlands.

A family told De Standaard that they had come shopping for shoes for their children and that they would go back to Belgium right after, while one couple said they had come to buy medicine.

The Flemish mayor was spotted shopping for fresh fish alongside his wife, who refused to have the mayor's name cited in the media for fear of a negative reaction.

But he said that, while he understood the concern, it was up to Dutch authorities to adopt a sterner stance if they wanted to discourage non-essential trips.

"I can understand that concern," he said. "It is a fact that going here and there to buy fresh fish is not essential. But if they close the border and are stricter, then we won't feel like coming by. I think this is the responsibility of the Dutch."

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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