From benevolence to repression: the police should now be intractable in applying the measures decided so far. Confirmation this Friday.

From benevolence to repression: the police should now be intractable in applying the measures decided so far. Confirmation this Friday.

From our correspondent, Max Hellef (Brussels) – Pressured by the ramping up of the covid-19 epidemic (434 hospitalizations and 56 additional deaths on Wednesday), Belgium is getting ready to harden the tone. This Friday, the National Security Council (CNS) which brings together the federal government, the Regions and the Communities, will more than likely extend the duration of confinement initially planned until April 5.

According to leaks received by the press, better monitoring of the application of “barrier measures” is also planned. The police will go into repressive mode in the face of non-compliance with social distancing and travel limitation measures. Many Belgians still refuse to comply with the confinement requirements and move without taking into account the slogans given on March 17 by the CNS.

The Covid-19 epidemic is mounting and increasing the number of deaths. A first peak is expected in the coming days which will tell if the country has not been long in confining itself.

Sign of the announced tightening: the circular that the attorneys general sent Wednesday to all judicial actors. The document enjoins the police to be firm and recalls the bans previously decided (closure of schools, non-essential businesses, etc.). It provides within each public prosecution service a benchmark magistrate for the fight against covid-19. He recommends that the police use video to establish evidence of an offense.

As for the fines that will follow the now systematic reports, they will hurt the portfolio: 750 euros for the restaurant owner who ventures to open his business and 250 euros for his customers. To be paid by card, cash not being received.

The circular also provides for possible prosecution “to publicly yelling that you are a carrier of covid-19”. She threatens with two years’ imprisonment and a fine of 25,000 euros for those who “spit, coughed or sneezed towards food which is offered for sale”.

Several testimonies – notably of cashiers working in supermarkets – reported altercations during which customers resorted to spitting.

Towards an increase in the number of tests

Will this further reinforced confinement suffice? The humanist deputy and doctor Catherine Fonck recalls that “we know that the countries where containment systems are effective are those where we massively screen suspicious people, which allows them to be isolated, to trace their contacts”.

But tests are sorely lacking in Belgium so far – as are protective masks. Wednesday, the Flemish liberal Philippe De Backer in charge of the task force dedicated to the search for materials essential to the fight against the coronavirus, however, undertook to “gradually increase the number of tests from 2,000 to 10,000 per day, in close collaboration with hospitals and hospital laboratories ”.

In Gembloux, the Coris Bioconcept company announces the imminent launch of tests capable of detecting viral antigens in fifteen minutes. The objective is to quickly arrive at a production of 50,000, even 100,000 tests per week.

In addition to health pressure, economic pressure is added. The Federation of Belgian Enterprises (FEB) thus assesses the economic impact of the covid-19 pandemic at 2.4 billion euros per week in Belgium, or 0.55% of gross domestic product (GDP). As to Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon (N-VA), he would like to see domestic workers and construction workers return to work, believing that the mechanism of temporary unemployment is too quickly requested.

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