Customs & Excise at work in the port of Antwerp. Credit: Belga
The country and its economy may be in lockdown thanks to the coronavirus epidemic, but for the drugs trade, it’s business as usual.
Customs and Excise are reporting captures of drugs undiminished by lockdown measures: more than a tonne discovered this month, and another 1.4 tonnes intercepted by other countries on its way to Belgium.
“We have noted an unprecedented quantity of cocaine and heroin on the last passenger flights arriving at Brussels Airport,” said the service’s spokesperson, Kristian Vanderwaeren.
“Organised crime has spotted the opportunities in these times of crisis. We have never before uncovered such a quantity of drugs in the bags of passengers. The traffickers are clearly counting on a reduction in the number of inspections.”
On the contrary, the drugs detection squad at the port of Antwerp – one of Europe’s principal points of entry for the drugs trade – has been reinforced. “In South America, young people still have plenty of money and the means to carry on with their activities,” Vanderwaeren said.
Colombia, for example, confirmed its first case on March 6, and by March 26 had confirmed 486 cases, according to the Council of the Americas. Bolivia has only 61 cases so far, the first being detected on March 10. In the case of both countries, the original cases were nationals returning from Italy.
So far, the virus has had a limited effect on the staffing of Customs, with 10% of officers off duty as a result.
“We have had to send home [the equivalent of] almost an entire team,” Vanderwaeren said. “We can cope with 10% absence and keep going for a few months. But if that moves towards 20% or 30%, there will obviously be problems.”
Based on an informal poll of users, the station reports a price increase of about one-third for herbal cannabis from €6/g to €8. That product is produced mainly in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Cannabis resin, on the other hand, comes mainly from Morocco, and has to cross frontiers to get here – so price increases are likely to be more steep as lockdown goes on.
He current restrictive measures have also brought about a change in the way the drug is traded.
“It’s no longer night shops or public parks,” one user said. “More usually supermarket car parks, or even the pavement in front of a snack bar – places where people have a good excuse to be without risking a police check.”