Johan Vande Lanotte, a former federal home affairs minister, has described the curfew imposed by provincial governor Cathy Berx (CD&V) as illegal.
Vande Lanotte is a constitutional law professor at the university of Ghent, as well as one of Belgium’s most highly respected politicians, having been president of the Flemish socialist party, mayor of Ostend and mentor to many a junior politician.
He was also appointed by the king in 2010, along with Didier Reynders (MR) to try to sound out party leaders on the creation of a new government.
Vande Lanotte was himself reported to be suffering mild symptoms of Covid-19 in March, and had self-isolated. He later recovered.
The curfew was introduced in late July, to tackle the problem of illegal gatherings according to Berx, and runs from 23.30 to 06.00. The measure has come in for some criticism already.
“That argument assumes that the parties will not continue because people cannot go home after 11.30 pm and before 6 am. Family parties during the day? Apparently never heard of them. Parties where the (young) people stay the night? Unheard of,” Vande Lanotte told De Standaard.
Parties and other gatherings above a limited number are already not allowed, he said, and the curfew does not help outside of its operating hours. All it does is add another dimension to an existing restriction, without however making the restriction more effective.
Above all, it does not address the issue directly, and does not restrict itself to dangerous situations.
“A ban on gatherings prohibits what is no longer allowed. A curfew prohibits what is no longer allowed, and much more. There is no public health risk whatever when someone wants to take a walk alone or with their partner at midnight,” he said.
The reason why the governor opted for the curfew, he said, is that it simply makes policing of the ban on gatherings more convenient. However that is not a valid rationale for restricting the movements of the entire population, on pain of a fine or a prison sentence.
“If we start to use the ease of enforcement of the police services as a deciding motive for such a far-reaching restriction of freedom, then we are fundamentally on the wrong path,” he said.
The government’s reaction to the crisis must, he said, be tough and unusual.
“But it should never exceed the margins of proportionality. If more police resources are needed, additional federal support could and should be requested if necessary.”
UPDATE: Police in Antwerp have handed out 84 tickets for breaches of the curfew since it was imposed a week ago.