The acting governor of West Flanders, Anne Martens (CD&V) has announced new measures to tackle the large numbers of day trippers arriving at the coastal resorts during the summer, after a battle between police and youths yesterday in Blankenberge.
Following a meeting of the province’s crisis cell this afternoon, Martens announced reinforced controls on arrivals, mainly at the largest resorts of Blankenberge, Knokke and Ostend.
The local police, who had already started today turning away tourists from Knokke and Blankenberge, will be backed up by federal police officers.
None of the coastal railway stations, where day trippers arrive en masse, will be closed, as was earlier suggested.
“We must not risk becoming overwhelmed by people stranded in the stations, a mass that we cannot control,” she said.
“We are strongly committed to crowd control. If monitoring shows that it is getting too busy somewhere, mayors can decide to lock their city down.”
According to information provided to the crisis cell, 15,000 people arrived in Ostend yesterday, 8,000 in Blankenberge and 2,500 in Knokke.
Police in the resorts will operate a zero-tolerance policy towards trouble-makers, including those who ignore rules on mask wearing and social distancing. Yesterday’s trouble in Blankenberge started when groups seated on the breakwater were instructed to move and refused.
“People who come to the coast looking for trouble, and who don’t follow the rules, will be dealt with harshly,” she said.
“They will appear before a judge under the rules of summary proceedings. That has been agreed with the public prosecutor.”
After yesterday’s trouble, about 20 people were detained administratively for identity checks, and three others for criminal offences. The identities of all those concerned will be retained and the persons involved will be unable to return to any of the coastal resorts.
Under municipal orders announced today in Knokke and Blankenberge, people coming from the interior of the country were stopped and asked to provide proof they had a legitimate reason for being in the two towns, such as an appointment at a hotel or restaurant, a booking for an apartment or a ticket for an event,
Such extreme measures may still operate at a municipal level. According to the decision published on the website of Blankenberge, the ban on outsiders was for today only.
As far as the province is concerned, meanwhile, the resorts remain open, but there are conditions, Martens said.
“People who seek the cool sea air with children remain welcome,” she said. “As do people who are willing to adhere correctly to the rules. Troublemakers are not welcome and will be picked out immediately.”