Hundreds of hospitality business owners in Antwerp are threatening to take a state virologist to court, accusing him of turning the city into a "ghost town" with his statements on the coronavirus pandemic.
The group Help De Horeca said they had already hired a lawyer to plan a potential lawsuit against Marc Van Ranst, a virologist advising the government on the coronavirus pandemic.
"Following Mr Marc Van Ranst's call for others to not come to Antwerp last Saturday, our beautiful city has been transformed into a ghost town," the group wrote on a Facebook statement on Monday.
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In the statement, the group accused Van Ranst of striking a death blow to the catering, or horeca, industry through his warnings on staying away from the region as it emerges as a hotbed of new coronavirus cases.
"We cannot count the number of cancellations anymore, the cafés are empty, the restaurants close earlier — just because of the fear around it."
On Saturday, the virologist, who has a large online following and is very present in the media, wrote on Twitter that Antwerp was battling a major coronavirus outbreak, urging would-be tourists to postpone their visit.
The group accused Van Ranst of bringing on a "total lockdown" for the industry by spreading "generalised fear," saying that the flare-ups can be traced back to social meetings such as"a few marriages."
Help De Horeca said they had already engaged a lawyer and would potentially attack Van Ranst in the courts, saying that the virologist can just "say whatever he wants in the media."
"We are tired of it, I've been swamped with phone calls from people who have had to close their businesses because no one is coming," group founder Johan Tisson told De Standaard.
Tisson said that around a hundred business owners had already joined the group and supported its initiatives, adding that some came to him "even in tears."
On Monday, authorities in Antwerp decided to impose a curfew on the entire province, with additional rules in the city of Antwerp aiming to beat back a surge of new coronavirus cases and avoid an all-out new lockdown for Belgium.
The Brussels Times