Police intervened on Saturday night to break up a crowd of partying young people gathered in their hundreds on Place Flagey in Ixelles commune.
The gathering took place after the cafes on the square had closed at 01.00 as required under the deconfinement rules. Despite the lack of bar service, the party continued.
“Last night we noticed that there were a lot of people present on Place Flagey,” said police spokesperson Ilse Van de Keere. “We’re talking about several hundred people. We intervened and asked the people to leave the square. That was difficult, because it was clear that they wanted to stay on and sing and dance together,” she said.
After a matter of hours and a muted response by police, the crowds dispersed.
“Gatherings of that many people are still not allowed,” said Van de Keere. “We don’t want to be the bogeyman, we just want to point out to people that this is not yet possible.”
The incident was the second time this week that police were called out to a gathering at Flagey. Earlier in the week a smaller post-closing crowd had to be dispersed, only to gather again nearby beside the lakes.
And Ixelles was not alone in the problem. Also on Saturday evening, this time in Rue Dante in Anderlecht, police were called at 05.00 to handle a crowd of 500 people gathered around an impromptu bonfire and playing loud music.
Virologist Professor Marc Van Ranst, for many the face of the fight against the coronavirus in Belgium, was severely critical of the crowds.
“This is unwise and undermines support for the corona measures,” he said of the gatherings.
“This is not supposed to be happening at this stage of the epidemic. The virus is not gone away. In the past week, there were an average of 90 new cases per day. And those are the cases we have detected, there will undoubtedly be more. Those numbers are higher than in all of China. In Beijing, these numbers are leading to very tough measures. We want to avoid that here.”
The suggestion of allowing bars to stay open later that 01.00 would not resolve the issue, he said.
“This is the agreement we reached with the industry,” he said. “You could wait until 02.00 or 03.00, but then there would still be these after parties. It is mainly young people who want to party further. I understand that, but this is not the time.”
The police could play more of a preventive role, he suggested.
“They could close down that square,” he said. “That might just move the problem elsewhere, but together with the Place de la Bourse, these are two places where young people are known to gather at night. Doing absolutely nothing doesn’t seem to me to be an option.”