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Westhoek tourism sector wants less strict Covid requirements for British
People working in the Westhoek tourist industry gathered in Ypres’ Grote Markt yesterday with giant British flags to ask the government to allow British tourists to more easily enter Belgium. Ypres, Poperinge and surrounding towns associated with the First World War normally host up to half a million tourists from the UK every year.
“For tourism-related business owners who count on the British market for 60% or more of their turnover, the situation is extremely precarious,” said the group in a statement.
Belgium requires more of post-Brexit Britain than some other countries when it comes to Covid. While British tourists can visit France or Spain with proof of vaccination, Belgium requires them to additionally get a test by their second day in the country and quarantine until the result is known. Should they be in the country for more than seven days, they must also test on the seventh day.
And that’s in additional to what the UK requires of its citizens travelling home from Belgium: A test three days before arriving back home and a test upon arrival, vaccinated or not. So depending on length of stay, this means two, three or potentially even four tests, in addition to proof of vaccination.
“This is becoming really emotional”: Simon Louagie of Talbot House
“That’s not realistic,” said Simon Louagie, manager of the Talbot House in Poperinge. “If we want to go to Poland or Cyprus, we don’t need to get tested because that’s the EU. But to go to our neighbouring country, the UK, we need three tests.”
Louagie admits that the Westhoek had a pretty good summer. “It was busy, but tourism cannot survive on two months a year. We need the British this month. We’re getting five to 15 visitors a day right now. At that rate, we won’t make it until next July.”
Talbot House in particular is important to the British as it was built as a recreation centre for British soldiers to escape trench warfare during the First World War. Aside from tourists, British citizens regularly volunteer at the house, which is still near to their hearts.
The Covid travel restrictions, continues Louagie, “are so painful because we have a historical band with the British Commonwealth. It’s an emotional and human story. Many of our British volunteers who have been coming here for 30 years cannot get here anymore. This is having such a terrible effect on them because they are not that young anymore. They don’t know if they will ever be able to come here again, so this is becoming really emotional. The longer it lasts, the worse it gets.”
The group is asking the federal government to treat British tourists like EU tourists and allow them to visit Belgium with proof of vaccination.
Photo top courtesy Genevra Charsley/Twitter