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Local mayors to be tipped off about returning holidaymakers

Starting today municipal authorities across Belgium may be alerted to citizens who are instructed to quarantine in the fight against coronavirus. Local mayors may be informed about all travellers returning from abroad.

The new legislation will allow local authorities to keep stricter tabs on people returning from red zones abroad.

Several local mayors have been keen to stress they do not intend to unleash a witch-hunt.

In Aalst (East Flanders) Mayor Christoph D’Haese says the town is fully prepared: “We will treat the data that we receive from the authorities properly.  We will do everything to respect privacy.  I can guarantee this won’t be a police hunt, but people displaying antisocial behaviour risk a hefty fine if they do not comply with quarantine obligations.”

Kris Declercq is the mayor of Roeselare (West Flanders): “Since last year we’ve been using quarantine coaches to provide a targeted follow-up.  The intention isn’t for the mayor to dispatch the police to carry out checks.  That is the ultimate link in the chain. Together with other municipalities in this area and the local police zone we will develop criteria to ensure we do not end up in a police state.”

In Brussels several local authorities are not starting today and are awaiting guidelines from the federal authorities. Mayor De Wolf of Etterbeek has pencilled in Thursday for talks with the federal authorities.

In Leuven (Flemish Brabant) talks are being held as early as today to decide how to enforce quarantine within the legal framework.  In the past the Leuven authorities have taken steps to increase public awareness among people who need to quarantine as well as offering help with the shopping.

Nathalie Debast of the Association of Flemish Towns and Municipalities notes that municipalities are not given automatic access to data on residents who need to quarantine: “We’re talking about individuals’ data that need to be treated carefully.  The Care and Health Agency agrees a protocol with municipalities wishing to use the system.”

As soon as agreement has been reached the data are released.

Ms Debast insists municipalities don’t want to unleash a witch-hunt: “People are already being contacted by their municipality.  They are being asked how they are doing, if they need help.  The new opportunities can be a help to sanction people if they don’t act responsibly”.

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