A number of mayors across Belgium are calling on the Consultative Committee to allow the terraces of bars and restaurants to stay open until 11:00 PM once they are able to restart, ahead of tomorrow's meeting.
When the Committee will discuss how to reopen the hospitality industry on Friday, three options for closing times will be considered: 8:00 PM, 9:30 PM and 11:00 PM, according to reports in Belgian media.
"The latest hour is the logical choice from an enforcement point of view," reacted Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever in local media on Thursday morning. "If you close the terraces as early as 8:00 PM, people will go to parks and quays. There, you have much less control over people's behaviour."
The mayor of Bruges, Dirk De fauw, supports De Wever's plea for an 11:00 PM closing time, as he is afraid that people will look for other places to gather - which will not be as regulated - if terraces close much earlier.
"If you have to be inside at midnight, then you should also allow people to sit on a terrace until 11:00 PM, for example," he said on Flemish radio. "After that, they can go home quietly."
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In the coastal town of Blankenberge, mayor Daphné Dumery raised some practical objections to the possibility of an 8:00 PM closing time.
"When the sun shines here, you can sit on the beach until that hour. But if you then want to eat something afterwards, that would no longer be possible," Dumery told Het Nieuwsblad. "11:00 PM is a good place to start: that seems workable, for the sector and for the customers."
In Knokke-Heist, another town along the Belgian coast - which recently made headlines as hundreds of young people gathered to party - the authorities want terraces to stay open until 1:00 AM, as it will be impossible to maintain the closing time of 11:00 PM without a curfew.
"Then people would continue their evening elsewhere in the public domain, and that would be chaos," they said. "With a curfew at midnight, 11:00 PM is fine by me. Without a curfew, it can even be after midnight. That way, we at least keep people outdoors."
In Brussels City, mayor Philippe is pleading for terraces to close at 11:30 PM, which would give people some time to get home before the ban on gatherings with more than three people goes into force at midnight, according to a spokesperson.
While Ghent mayor Mathias De Clercq does not want to take a stance on what closing hour would be desirable ahead of the Committee, his spokesperson Thomas Dierckens stressed that "all the new rules must be in logical agreement."
"It would, for example, be infuriating for the hospitality industry if they had to close their terraces at 10:00 PM, while people could then go to the night shop and continue the party with, say, a bottle of wine somewhere else," Dierckens told De Standaard.
Like De Wever, De Clercq is also pleading to align the ban on the sale of alcohol with the terraces' closing time. "As far as I know, all mayors during the consultation with [Interior Minister] Annelies Verlinden were in favour of such an alignment."
The Brussels Times