Large gatherings and parties ‘big middle finger to those respecting rules’, says Van Ranst
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Large gatherings and parties ‘big middle finger to those respecting rules’, says Van Ranst

Credit: Mohamed Ridouani/Twitter screengrab

Virologist Marc Van Ranst said the young people who gathered in big groups and partied across several cities on Wednesday night are disrespecting those who are not violating the measures.

“These scenes are a middle finger to everyone who does respect the rules, and this shows that the curfew remains very useful,” he told Het Laatste Nieuws.

As a result of the springlike weather on Wednesday evening, many people flocked to squares and parks in Belgium’s cities to enjoy the last of the day’s sunlight.

Under current coronavirus fighting measures, gatherings outdoors are restricted to a maximum of four people, however footage from several cities showed larger groups sitting together without face masks, and not distancing from other groups.

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In Ghent, thousands of people gathered to party in close proximity to each other on the Sint-Pietersplein, in the city’s student neighbourhood, around 6:00 PM.

Upon the arrival of the police, the students fled the scene, after which the entrance to the square was closed off.

“Several fines were handed out last night, two people were fined for not wearing a face mask, 14 for not complying with the curfew, 11 for gathering and another two for drinking after the ban on alcohol after 8:00 PM,” Ghent Police spokesperson Matto Langeraert told The Brussels Times.

In reaction to the small number of fines handed out in comparison with the large crowd that gathered, he said: “Our priority is not to impose fines, but to enforce measures and to protect people’s safety, and at that point in time we did not think it was the right time to issue an official notice.”

As far as additional measures are concerned, it is up to the federal or local government to impose them, Langeraert said, adding “we cannot decide on them but we can advise on them.”

Throughout last week, the Ghent police also caught students partying on this square two nights in a row, and fined 27 students for violating the coronavirus fighting measures.

The pandemic isn’t over

In Leuven, renowned for being a student city, the police was forced to evacuate and close the city park, as too many people were illegally gathering here.

Just before 6:00 PM, the mayor of Leuven, Mohamed Ridouani, ordered the closure of the park.

“I understand that everyone wants to enjoy the nice weather, but the corona pandemic is not over yet, the measures are there for everyone. There are too many people now, which makes it impossible to keep a distance,” he said on Twitter.

After the park’s closure, many young people flocked to the Ladeuzeplein in the city’s centre.

In Antwerp, 18 official reports of violations were drawn up, however no parks or areas were closed off, whilst in Brussels’ Bois de La Cambre, police only supervised the crowds.

Lauren Walker
The Brussels Times