Corona update: Antwerp business owners file complaint against curfew


While small business owners in Antwerp have gone to the Council of State claiming that the province’s curfew is unconstitutional, one-third of staff at a meat-packing plant in West Flanders have tested positive for Covid-19

‘House arrest’

Two groups of business owners in Antwerp province have filed complaints with the Council of State against the curfew introduced to slow the spread of the coronavirus. They claim the measure is unconstitutional.

Under the curfew, no-one is allowed out between 23.30 and 6.00, except for essential journeys such as going to work or to hospital. Bars and restaurants across the province must close by 23.00, and the measure will be in place until at least the end of August, across the entire province.

“This curfew actually comes down to a kind of house arrest,” professor of constitutional law Stefan Sottiaux told VRT. “That is not always unconstitutional, but you have to have strong arguments for it. You have to prove there are no other options, that you’ve really tried everything to avoid late-night gatherings, because that’s what it’s about.”

The catering industry has already suffered so much, and this comes on top of that

- Melissa Vande Reyde

One of the groups consists of bar and restaurant owners in Bonheiden, which borders Flemish Brabant. Rural municipalities and areas with very few coronavirus infections are particularly unhappy about the measure. Owners of bars and restaurants say they are losing business to establishments over the provincial border, which are not faced with the same restrictions.

“The catering industry has already suffered so much, and this comes on top of that,” said Melissa Vande Reyde, the lawyer representing the Bonheiden complainants. “Curfews also violate constitutional freedoms for individuals. Those who want to walk their dog at night are not contributing to the spread of the virus.”

Virus spreads through factory

Meanwhile, the mayor of Staden in West Flanders, Francesco Vanderjeugd (Open VLD), has decided not to close the meat-packing plant Westvlees, which has seen an outbreak of infections among its staff. “There’s concern but no panic,” he told VRT.

A total of 194 people working in the meat cutting and packaging departments were tested this week, and 67 infections were confirmed. Of those, 48 live locally and 19 are from northern France or Wallonia. Northern France has been categorised as an orange zone by Belgium’s foreign ministry, meaning anyone returning from there is advised to quarantine.

Westvlees staff who tested positive must go into quarantine for 14 days. Employees who tested negative should only leave the house for essential journeys.

Those working in the company’s other departments are due to be tested next week. From Saturday, 8 August, facemasks will be compulsory in all public areas of Staden.

Photo ©Nicolas Maeterlinck/BELGA