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Brussels bans prostitution again in bid to curb Covid-19 infection rate

Brussels rue d'Aerschot: Belga images
14:58 29/09/2020

Brussels mayor Philippe Close has ordered all prostitutes in Brussels city centre to stop working in a bid to stop the resurgence of coronavirus in the capital.

It is unclear if Brussels is experiencing a so-called ‘second wave’ of the pandemic. But the city recorded the highest percentage – around 10% - of positive Covid-19 test results in the country, more than double the national average of 4.7% between 17 and 23 September. Brussels region also has the highest number of hospital admissions for coronavirus.

The ban, that came into effect on 28 September, will remain in place for an undetermined period.

As a result, the ‘Studio 2000’, ‘Studio Europe’ and ‘5th Avenue’ ‘pay-by-the-hour’ or ‘love’ hotels used for prostitution in the city’s ‘Alhambra’ area near Yser metro will be closed until a new order is passed.

Brussels-Ixelles local police has started informing the sex workers – that operate mainly around Gare du Nord, particularly along the rue d’Aerschot and also on the Avenue Louise. They will issue warnings at first, but fines later if prostitutes continue to work.

Private prostitution is legal in Belgium, but financially benefitting from the prostitution of others (like pimping or running a brothel) is not. In practice, the sector is something of a grey area and during the lockdown sex workers found they were not eligible for unemployment benefit.

“The actual Belgian system is hypocritical,” Brussels’ sex worker association UTSOPI (the Union of Sex Workers Organised for Independence) said. “On the one hand, Belgium is condemning, on the other hand it is tolerant, but always accepting that we pay our taxes and charges, but without ever giving us more rights,” added the collective, which was set up in December 2015.

This week’s measure on downtown Brussels sex workers follows the decree obliging, until at least 19 October, a 23.00 closure for the capital’s cafes and bars. The announcement was also made the day Saint-Josse mayor Emir Kir said the commune’s swimming pool, ‘Maison des Jeunes’ (youth centre), sports halls, Musée Charlier and library would all be closed for at least a month and until further notice because of the worrying rise in coronavirus cases.

Photo: Sex workers in the Rue d'Aerschot, a prostitution hot-spot of Brussels. (c) Siska Gremmelprez/Belga.