‘Common sense’ will prevent crowding when shops reopen, health minister says
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    ‘Common sense’ will prevent crowding when shops reopen, health minister says

    People walk past a retail chain's store front in Antwerp's high street. © Belga

    There is no need for measures to prevent crowding on shopping streets as people’s common sense should ensure the reopening of shops in May goes smoothly, Federal Health Minister Maggie De Block said Monday.

    In a radio interview on Radio 1, De Block said that she did not think it was necessary to regulate pedestrian traffic on popular and normally busy high streets once shops went back to business on 11 May.

    “I’m not going to control traffic on the Meir,” De Block said, referring to the busiest shopping street in Belgium, located in downtown Antwerp.

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    “I live opposite a butcher, people there have the discipline to keep their distance when queuing,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where you stand, a row is a row — that is simple, right? We must be pragmatic and use our common sense.”

    De Block’s comments follow a decision by the National Security Council to allow all shops to reopen from 11 May.

    The conditions under which the reopening would take place will be defined in concertation with the sector and will include guidelines to prevent crowding, according to an official statement.

    The NSC’s call strays from the initial recommendation of scientists in the Group of Experts for an Exit Strategy (GEES), who in their recommendations for lifting the lockdown had said a majority of shops should remain closed until at least 18 May.

    A recent relaxation of the lockdown measures saw home improvement shops allowed to reopen provided they observed social distancing rules. Additionally, certain wholesale shops were allowed to open, but only for professionals.

    Strict social distancing rules and the mandatory use of face masks were one of the conditions shopkeepers must enforce in order to reopen.

    Face masks would be helpful during the “new phase” that the country was now preparing to enter as confinement measures were progressively lifted, De Block said.

    “In this case it can be helpful to protect those around you by wearing a face mask,” she said, adding that residents should use reusable tissue masks as surgical masks were reserved for health care workers who “really needed them.”

    In the weeks before the pandemic fully hit Belgium, De Block was one of several government officials who said the use of a face mask in public was unnecessary for regular citizens.

    As the pandemic picked up pace in Belgium, news emerged that De Block had failed to replace Belgium’s strategic stock of masks after they hit their expiration date, exacerbating a nationwide shortage of protective equipment.

    Gabriela Galindo
    The Brussels Times