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Record February temperatures bring Belgians out en masse
A new Belgian temperature record for 21 February was recorded on Sunday in Uccle, where the mercury reached 17.9°C. The previous record, 14.6°C, was set in 1946.
The warm weather, coming hard on the heels of one of the coldest winter snaps for some time, brought many people out of their homes and into public spaces all over the country to enjoy the fine weather.
Parks and forests saw huge increases of visitors while coastal resorts were bulging with sun-seekers, with the number of overnight stays on the Belgian coast during the spring holidays almost doubling compared to last year. Unsurprisingly, after such a difficult year, hotels and owners of property rentals were very happy.
However, not everyone was as ecstatic as those benefitting from the sunny spell.
The number of corona restrictions infringements also rose along with the temperatures as people gathered to enjoy the warmth together. Parties took place in contravention of the current laws all over the Brussels-Capital region, leading police – who had already been prepared for such incidents – to call in reinforcements to cope with the situation.
"We have seen a lot of videos where the mask requirement was not complied with and sometimes there were a lot of people close together," said a police spokesperson for the Brussels-Capital/Ixelles zone. "It was very busy, and we couldn't be everywhere. Our officers have mainly just issued warnings, for example, by insisting people wear their face masks."
As well as parties in the parks, the sunny weather also gave some the idea to organise a party at home, something the police took a much dimmer view on.
In Brussels city centre, police patrols shut down three lockdown parties, of eight, 12 and 24 revellers, respectively. In Laeken, the police intervened at a party with six attendees. And in Ixelles, two groups, of seven and eight people, were broken up. All attendees were fined and will have to pay a €750 fine.
In the Versailles district in Neder-over-Heembeek things also got out of hand. Around 1.00 in the morning on Sunday, a cat-and-mouse game started between neighbourhood youths and the police. Among other things, a rubbish bin and two containers were set on fire. Bins and trash were thrown all over the street before the youths fled from the attending officers. No damage was done, no one was injured, and no one was arrested.
On Sunday morning, those out for a more leisurely early stroll will have seen evidence of the gathering all over the city. In many parks, rubbish bins full of cans, plastic and food scraps were overflowing. Likewise, in the Bois de la Cambre. On social media, hikers complained about the trash. The city of Brussels deployed extra workers to clean up the waste, so that Sunday visitors could dispose of their waste in empty bins.
Normally, the park service does not work during the weekend during the winter period. "But we anticipated the good weather forecasts,” a spokesperson said. “An extra cleaning crew was deployed in the morning, and extra workers were called in for Sunday morning. There were 12 cleaners working, three more than usual." In the spring, the parks department promises to install more rubbish bins across the city’s green spaces.
The Bois de la Cambre was again full of rubbish on Sunday evening after another very busy day. The large amount of people enjoying the sun, the loud music and the relaxed atmosphere gave the park the feeling of a small music festival. But around 18.00, the police present moved in to stop the music, fearing that too many people would be attracted. Elsewhere in the park, a large group of cyclists had gathered to protest the corona measures – but their demonstration was largely drowned out by those enjoying the carnival atmosphere nearby.