Just crossing the border to fill up the tank at a Belgian gas station. For Dutch people in the border area no option, given the strict lockdown. For journeys to Belgium, they must have an essential reason at the moment, and refuelling is not one of them.
This can be seen for petrol stations just across the border, such as the petrol station the children in Ravels. ,”It’s definitely quieter,” says owner Jef the kids. ,, If I have to estimate a decrease of about 20%, but there are still Dutch people coming to refuel.”
They are careful, the pumpholder notes. “People play by the rules, keep their distance and wear a muzzles. It is often not so that they only come to refuel, usually it is combined with shopping or buying beer or other alcoholic beverages.”
Also the van hit filling stations with offices in Poppel, Baarle Duke and Opel, among others, see a decrease in the number of Dutch customers. ,’In the last few weeks we have seen a 50% decrease in the stations in the border area’, says the owner, Mrs Van Maart. ,But the Dutch still keep coming. The borders are not closed, so we can and cannot ban people. During the first lockdown, the boundaries were locked and the gas station in Poppel was also closed.”
The measures do create uncertainty. We’re getting calls from people asking if they can come and refuel.
In principle, the borders are open, but non-necessary movements from abroad – which clearly includes refuelling – are undesirable. ,,We strongly advise against coming to Belgium for this reason. We want to prevent the spread of the virus,” says Ward van Hees, spokesperson for the local police zone Kempen North-East, which includes the municipality of Ravels.
For example, a Frenchman was fined no less than EUR 4000, because he had just crossed the Belgian border to fill his tank cheaply in Wallonia. However, the Dutch cannot be fined for refuelling alone. ,At some border crossings we check and then we ask people why they come to Belgium. If they call ‘refuelling’ as a reason, then we indicate that is not the intention. But we cannot give a fine for that,” says Van Hees.
Visitors from the Netherlands who stay in Belgium for more than 48 hours must fill out a form and show a recent negative Covid-19 test result. But the Dutch do not have to be afraid of a fine of thousands of euros, as in the case of the Frenchman. ,There must have been other factors. That man may have broken several Coronas rules, like not wearing a mask. Or he was in a car with too many people. It does involve financial sanctions,” says Van Hees.
Despite the fact that the Dutch can’t go to Belgium for a petrol district, there are no additional customers on the Dutch side of the border. ,”It’s just a slacker in the run-up”, says Annemiek van der Steen, an employee of the Esso in Hilvarenbeek. ,, A lot of people work from home and go out less anyway, so I think that also means less driving.”