A man has been sentenced by a Belgium court to 12-months imprisonment and has been fined 1,600€ for attempting to get around pandemic travel rules by using a fake test certificate. The man was, in fact, actively infected with COVID-19 when he flew to Belgium despite local rules dictating that all travellers have a negative PCR or rapid antigen test result before boarding a plane to the country.
Eleven further defendants received a six-month prison sentence and a fine of 1,600€ each for forgery of documents, or in the case of defendants who presented a faked digital certificate, forgery of computer science, reported Belgium news site Aviation24.
Border guards at Brussels Airport have caught 820 using forged test certificates in the last few months and the vast majority accept an immediate 750€ fine to escape further prosecution. Around 20 per cent of those who are caught, however, contest the fine and are sent to court.
Prosecutors are pursuing cases against 160 people and a criminal court dealt with the first group from that backlog on Wednesday.
Most of the defendants didn’t show up at court but one woman pleaded her innocence and was handed down a six month suspended sentence and an 800€ fine. Three other defendants were ordered to complete 60 hours of community service each.
In its ruling, the court concluded that there are “few such textbooks of uninhibited selfish behaviour.” Those who were found guilty on Wednesday had “deliberately endangered society by placing their own freedom to travel above the public interest,” Aviation24 reported.
Like much of Europe, Belgium is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 infections as a result of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Belgium uses a colour-coded traffic light system to determine travel restrictions and travellers from a high-risk Red list destination must take either a PCR test within 72 hours of travel or a rapid antigen test within a day of travel.
Despite widespread access to cheaper testing, test certificate fraud remains a very real issue. The International Air Transportation Association (IATA) had been developing an app that would link test results with an authorised test provider and verify the results but the app hasn’t become as widespread as some people in the airline industry had hoped it would.
Instead, airline check-in agents and border guards must often try to spot forged documents by looking for common telltale signs like spelling errors or other formatting issues that give the game away.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.