Starting next week, 40 plain-clothes inspectors from the federal health ministry will be on patrol in the country to police the implementation of the regulations in place to control the spread of the coronavirus infection Covid-19.
The inspectors will work closely with local police to ensure businesses are following the instructions set out by federal, regional and local authorities.
The inspectors have the right to show up unexpectedly at businesses such as hairdressers, nail studios, shops, tattoo parlours, beauty salons, snack bars and so on – basically any businesses which remain open, and are subject to restrictions.
According to Paul Van den Meerssche, head of the ministry’s tobacco and alcohol control service, “The intention is to check all hotspots for possible contamination”.
The core business of the service is normally to control the sale of tobacco and alcohol, as well as cosmetics and e-cigarettes.
“Of course we are happy to help to check compliance with the imposed corona rules,” he said.
The inspectors are not mere bureaucrats, however. They have the same powers as police officers.
“They are able to file official reports and issue fines,” said Van den Meerssche.
“But unlike police officers, they cannot immediately collect fines,” added Kristine De Beule, deputy prosecutor in Ghent.
The fines in question amount to €750 for any trader who breaks the corona rules (on opening times, mask wearing, number of clients etc) and €250 for any member of staff or public found to be in breach of the rules.
In the meantime, inspectors from the finance ministry who have long experience of checking on businesses’ observance of the general health and safety rules in force at all times have been stepping up their checks, for example on building sites. According to their experience, nine out of ten businesses are following the coronavirus rules correctly.