The Belgian coastal strip is just 67 kilometers long and is always a busy place in summer. However, next summer, if confinement rules are being relaxed, there are fears that the influx of day trippers could be even bigger since many people will not book a holiday abroad, out of corona concerns.
The debate has started: will the number of visitors be restricted? Virologist Steven Van Gucht, who advises the federal government about which measures to take, says a restriction would be "logical": "We should avoid flocking to the same place on a sunny day."
Beach police in action in Ostend?
So, if the number of people at the beach is being downsized, who will get priority? Bart Tommelein, the mayor of Ostend, says "if you allow everybody, this equals a mass event - and these have been banned until 31 August - so we will have to do something. Maybe we will have a special beach police."
Tommelein adds that "we will have to give priority to certain people, it's the only way." Mr Tommelein is thinking of his local residents and those with a second home at the coast "because they are paying taxes in Ostend". They would get a beach pass.
We will have to impose some kind of restriction
However, his colleague Jean-Marie Dedecker, the mayor of Middelkerke, does not agree. The beach belongs to everyone, he argues. He says things can be fixed in order to avoid the biggest crowds and is calling on everyone to use some common sense. His Nieuwpoort colleague Geert Van Den Broucke warns: "People tend to forget the rules soon. We will have to come up with some clear guidelines."
Dahpné Dumery, who is in charge in Blankenberge, underlines that it is not an easy matter. A big concert site only has a couple of entrances where you can count the number of people, but for a beach this is impossible. Her colleague in De Panne Bram Degrieck is not really a big fan of beach permits. He thinks it is up to the federal government to make a decision, in order to avoid that every coastal municipality is applying its own rules and restrictions.
Everyone is welcome at the beach