Open-air traders say their fate is still uncertain after Friday’s press conference at which the Government outlined plans to allow stores to reopen after the lockdown linked to the novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
“Nothing has been decided, we are not stores so, to this day, we are not even sure we shall be back in business on 11 May,” Léonard Monami, head of the Union nationale des commerçants ambulants, which represents open-air traders, said on Saturday evening.
Belgium’s authorities have opted for a phased reopening of businesses, starting on 4 May for professionals, then on 11 May for the general public.
Speaking on VTM news on Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said this would depend on the evolution of the pandemic, but that, in any event it would be done in a manner that ensured public safety.
“We will be strict on compliance with the rules,” which would be set beforehand, De Croo said. “We shall organise this with the cities and communes and middle-class organisations,” he added. “We must avoid having too many people around at the same time on business streets.”
According to De Croo, it was no longer sustainable to keep businesses closed or to differentiate between them. He described the reopening of all businesses as a relief for the state budget since temporary unemployment measures cost Belgium “about one billion euros per month.”
However, at Friday’s press conference, nothing was said about the vendors who sell their goods at weekly open-air markets.
“We’re ready to resume business,” Monami said. “We are asking for protective measures and the vendors are prepared to wear masks.”
The vendors want municipalities to provide crowd-control barriers to prevent customers from coming into contact with their goods. “Police and stewards also need to be deployed to enforce social distancing rules, among other things,” added Monami, whose organisation is affiliated to the Union des Classes Moyennes, a federation of associations representing small and medium-sized businesses.
In Wallonia, 15,000 people, 6,000 of them self-employed, sell at open-air markets, and the first few months of this year have been a difficult time for them. “Before the lockdown, there had been storms on many weekends, so sales were very bad for us,” Monami stressed.
He said he had heard that some vendors planned to block the Châtelineau (Charleroi) shopping mall on 11 May if they are not allowed to resume their activities.
While such actions do not have the federation’s blessing, “it seems hard to understand why shopping malls can open but not markets,” Monami said.