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How Belgian police will check people on Christmas Eve

Credit: Pixabay/Belga/Pexels

While extra police patrols will be on the streets to make sure that people are respecting the coronavirus measures on Christmas Eve, they have made clear it will not be a witch hunt.

For most police zones across Belgium, the checks will focus on gatherings indoors and in the garden, with extra attention on Christmas and New Year’s Day.

In almost all police zones across the country, patrols will act proactively (by carrying out checks) and reactively (in case of reports) to enforce the ‘zero tolerance’ policy, according to the provincial governors.

“On 31 December, we will keep our seven extra patrols as in previous years, but we will add three extra teams on Christmas Eve,” Dorien Baens, spokesperson for the Hasselt police, told Het Laatste Nieuws.

“On Christmas Day we will add another one, making a total of four extra teams. On New Year’s Day, we will add six teams,” she added.

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According to Belgium’s rules, households can only receive one visitor indoors for the holidays. People living alone can receive two people on Christmas.

For outdoor gatherings, groups of up to four people are allowed, but the distance and hygiene measures still have to be respected, and there has to be direct access to the garden. Only one of them can go inside and use the toilet, however.

On Wednesday, the Crisis Centre clarified that children under 12 years old also count as so-called ‘cuddle contacts,’ meaning that they also count as visitors for the festivities.

However, not all violations are black and white, according to Johan Vermant, spokesperson for Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever.

“We are not going to tear grandma away from the party table,” he told reporters, adding that the Antwerp authorities are mainly counting on the people’s civic spirit.

“Respecting the privacy of people’s homes is sacred to us, but we will take action in the event of manifest violations,” Vermant said. “We will enforce strictly, but proportionately.”

Earlier this month, the governor of the Antwerp province, Cathy Berx had already stated that things like “how many people will be gathered in houses” and “how many pizzas will be delivered” would be checked.

In the coastal city of Ostend, too, the focus will be on stopping and preventing large lockdown parties, mayor Bart Tommelein told local media.

“If the police receive a report of a lockdown party of about ten people, that will be prioritised over grandparents who receive their only child with a grandchild,” he said.

Additionally, not all offences will be fined equally, according to Marck Snoek, the mayor of Halle, just outside of Brussels.

“If the police discover a party where a disco bar has been installed and forty people are partying, the organiser will be fined €4,000, the guests will have to pay €750 each,” he said, referring to the raised fines announced recently.

However, family gatherings “with your grandmothers and seven aunts and uncles” will be fined with the “regular” €250, according to Snoek. “That is a breach of the rules, but that is not a lockdown party.”

Despite earlier reports, police will also not be allowed to use drones to find lockdown parties, as the country’s college of public prosecutors declared this measure “disproportionate.” They can still be used, however, to assess a general situation, such as the crowds in a busy shopping street or along the seafront.

Additionally, the police will not stop by each house to count the number of cars in the driveway, according to the Bruges police.

“If the patrolling officers see ten cars parked at one house, of course they will go and check what is going on,” they said, adding that this is not the case at every house with two or three cars.

Randomly ringing doorbells to check how many people are inside, however, will not happen, according to Bruges. “This is not a witch hunt.”

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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