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Antwerp’s measures met with confusion by rest of province

Credit: Belga

Several mayors have voiced their confusion about Antwerp’s additional measures to contain the coronavirus in the province, as many municipalities record very little infections but still have to adhere to the strict rules.

On Monday, the Antwerp province – which is hardest hit in Belgium – announced additional measures, on top of those already taken by the National Security Council.

The measures, which include a curfew and a closing time of 11:00 PM for cafes and restaurants, apply throughout the province, including in smaller rural municipalities, which have recorded far fewer infections, prompting several mayors to react with incomprehension.

For businesses in the city of Antwerp, where 711 new infections were recorded over the past week, the measures make sense, but municipalities such as Edegem or Kapellen, which saw 2 new infections in the past week according to Sciensano’s dashboard, do not understand that they have to adhere to the same measures.

“I think the measures are very draconian. I regret that everyone is affected because certain groups do not obey the rules,” mayor of Edegem Koen Metsu told De Standaard.

“I understand that something was needed. But my proposal was: stick to the rules agreed by the Security Council. And if there are cafes, shops, restaurants that do not abide by them, act immediately and close the business,” he added.

“For us, the situation is well under control, with no infections for two days now, and only two in the last week,” Kapellen mayor Dirk Van Mechelen told Het Laatste Nieuws. “It is not immediately obvious to us that the province just places all of Antwerp’s peripheral municipalities in the red risk zone,” he added.

“I understand that the greatest caution is now required to stop the virus, but the measures are very far-reaching for our municipality. Especially for our youth, who are already struggling, four weeks of social lockdown is very drastic,” Van Mechelen said.

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He added that Kapellen will use “common sense” to enforce the measures, with extra police patrols to oversee the closing hour of the hospitality industry. “I fear a peak situation might happen around 11:00 PM,” he added.

Other municipalities, such as Retie, Berlaar and Turnhout, close to the provincial border with Flemish Brabant, have recorded no new infections at all, but still have to respect the curfew and wear a face mask when out in public. “The line must be drawn somewhere. But why does that have to be more than 45 kilometres away from [the city of] Antwerp?” a restaurant owner in Turnhout said.

“We have always adhered to the measures, but this goes way too far,” a pub owner from Bonheiden said. “A curfew in a municipality where there are few or no infections and which is, so to speak, a stone’s throw from another province. It’s too ridiculous for words,” he added.

Antwerp provincial governor Cathy Berx, however, defended the general measures for the whole province on Tuesday. “This is a combination of preventive measures for municipalities that have not yet been severely affected, and a clear intervention where a strong increase is already happening,” she said on VTM News.

“What’s more, the virus knows no boundaries; it can happen very quickly. That is why it has been decided to take this measure for the whole province. This also has to do with clear enforcement across the entire province,” she added.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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