The Belgian justice system expects the amount of fines handed out for ignoring the rules on confinement to reach one million euros in the course of next week.
That prediction comes from Erwin Dernicourt, president of the college of prosecutors-general, speaking to the Mediahuis newspapers.
The fines are imposed for breach of the main rules on confinement: no non-essential travel; leave home only for essential reasons, such as food shopping, a visit to the doctor or pharmacy, to work if teleworking is impossible, or to being aid to someone who needs it. Going outside for exercise (but not sport) is allowed, but the rules on social distancing have to be followed.
There have also been fines for less common offences: a bar that held a lock-in party for favoured regulars; a night shop owner who was caught illegally selling face-masks.
In all, 16,000 fines have been handed out in connection with the confinement. And that total does not include the Easter weekend just past, when sunny weather brought more people than usual out in public for a brief – albeit illegal – respite from the four walls of home.
The law allows those who were issued with a fine notice to settle without the extra costs that apply when the justice system has to recover payment. Last week 2,800 offenders agreed to that arrangement, for a total value of €640,000. Hence the prediction that the amount of €1 million will be surpassed within a week, as more offenders choose to pay up.
However, he did admit there are a number of grey areas in the rules, for example in determining what counts as exercise. Is walking exercise if it is done in ordinary clothing? Is it legal to stop running to do push-ups or stretching?
“That is why we are asking police officers to err on the side of caution when issuing fines, he said.