With terraces set to reopen this weekend on 8 May, but only from 8:00 AM until 10:00 PM each day, law enforcement is preparing for what they anticipate will be new challenges in enforcing coronavirus containment measures.
Some of these preparations include extra patrols in Leuven, cameras for crowd control in Ghent and police horses in Knokke, reports De Standaard.
The opening of the terraces, combined with what’s expected to be warm spring weather and general coronavirus fatigue, is expected to present police with difficulties.
“We all yearn for freedom. Especially now that we are allowed to gather in larger groups and have a drink on a terrace, it will give us the feeling that this freedom is back,” Joery Dehaes of the ACV Police union told De Standaard.
“Unfortunately, that is not the case: rules will remain in force and there will be people who cross the line. Certainly after a few pints, people may forget the threat to our health. I think police work will become more difficult in the interim phase that is coming up.”
Cities and municipalities across Belgium are expanding the space for outdoor cafés as much as possible in anticipation of the relaxations this weekend. Neighbouring car parks, squares and parks are being taken over by the catering industry, which has been more or less shut down for over a year now.
“There will be fewer similar gatherings [to La Boum],” said Jurgen De Landsheer, chief of police for the Brussels South district. “The more freedom, the more people can spread out.”
“I’m not going to deny it: the police are coronavirus-fatigued too. We’re not always the best placed to enforce the measures, but we are the last resort. Through our catering teams, we will work with the owners to ensure that the rules are respected. The question is what will happen after the catering industry closes [at 10:00 PM].”
The closure time has been the subject of some complaints.
“If it gets too busy somewhere, we’ll try a soft eviction. 8 May will be a test in any case,” the spokesperson for Ghent mayor Mathias De Clercq (Open VLD) told De Standaard.
Just like Ghent, Ostend is going to work with crowd control so that, if necessary, certain streets can be closed off quickly.
“I, too, have had enough of constantly having to point out the rules,” Ostend mayor Bart Tommelein (Open VLD) said.
“We are relieved that the terraces can open and people can go somewhere. But almost half the city is vaccinated, and those people dare to be more lax.”
Law enforcement agencies say they do not intend to be nitpicky.
“Common sense and reasonableness are the basis,” said Wouter Bruyns of the Antwerp local police. “Address where possible and act where necessary. But there will always be people who think the measures are exaggerated, just as there are people who think the police do too much.”
For the Blankenberge/Zuienkerke area, Chief of Police Hans Quaghebeur said, “We give our teams the directive to only enforce what is clearly enforceable.”
“Our teams have to use their common sense and weigh up the circumstances under which an offence was committed.”
In Leuven, chief inspector Mathieu Caudron wants to focus on trust: “We are not going to check at every table with more than four people how many of them are in the same bubble.”