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The coast is clear: 'Beach police' to limit seaside access this summer
In any other year, on a sunny day in the Easter holidays, Flanders’ beaches and coastal towns would be packed with tourists and locals enjoying the fine weather and the chance to be outside. Thanks to the coronavirus, it’s a very different picture this year.
Aerial photos taken by the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences show deserted beaches and empty water, as people stay at home in line with social distancing measures introduced in March to try and stop the spread of the virus.
As well as having a huge impact on people’s daily lives, the measures have taken their toll on businesses across the region – particularly tourism. Westtoer, which represents the sector in West Flanders, reports a loss of €750 million by local tourism businesses this spring.
Despite this, companies are working on campaigns discouraging people from travelling to the coast en masse when restrictions start to be lifted. With overseas travel plans cancelled or put in doubt because of the virus, people are looking closer to home for their summer holidays. To manage the expected crowds, some authorities are considering a priority system for local residents.
“The people of Ostend pay taxes, and you have second-home owners who pay a second residence tax. These seem to me to be the first people who are entitled to the beach,” Ostend mayor Bart Tommelein told VRT’s Terzake. “We will probably have to organise some sort of beach police this summer. The stretch of beach is definitely not big enough to accommodate all Belgian holidaymakers at the same time, so we have to spread them out and work with priorities. We will have no choice.”
Virologist Steven Van Gucht, who has been addressing the public in the daily news briefings about the pandemic, added: “We have to think about how we can better organise things so that people can have free time and take holidays without everyone gathering in one place. We will have to be creative.”