The governor of West Flanders, Carl Decaluwé, has ordered reinforced police checks on the border between his province and France, after the British variant of Covid-19 turned up in Dunkirk.
Hospitals in the French town are reported to be overwhelmed, and the fear is that border traffic could bring the variant to Belgium. Extra police will be deployed to check the movements of transmigrants looking to leave the French port and try their luck in Belgium,
“The situation in Dunkirk is serious. People are having to be transferred to other hospitals because everything is full,” Decaluwé said. Tighter controls on the Belgian side are being matched by actions on the French side of the border.
“There is in any case a lot of border traffic of frontier workers, and little can be done about that,” he said.
“But we do notice that many people are still crossing the border to buy cigarettes or just go for a walk, for example. In view of the good weather in the coming days, the checks are really necessary.”
The so-called British variant, also known as 20I/501Y.V1 lineage B.1.1.7, is a variant of the virus that causes Covid-19, though to be up to 80% more transmissible than the standard virus. It first emerged in September 2020, and has since spread widely. It now accounts for one in three new infections in Belgium, virologist Steven Van Gucht said a week ago.
Transmigrants will also be the subject of police attention.
“If people cross the border and walk around here, that poses a risk,” Decaluwé said.
“We must absolutely avoid that.”
Earlier this week, the local police zone Westkust called on its residents to cross the border only when necessary.
“We absolutely want to avoid a Dunkirk situation here, and as we have seen in Dunkirk, it can happen very quickly. We have to be very careful.”