Shops, banks, borders: what the coronavirus has shut down in Belgium
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    Shops, banks, borders: what the coronavirus has shut down in Belgium

    © Jules Johnston/The Brussels Times; Pixabay

    Belgian public life ground to a halt at noon on Wednesday as sweeping measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic entered into force.

    While authorities stopped short of calling the situation a lockdown, the guidelines have ushered in a new wave of closures of shops, public sites, business activities and services.

    From borders and the legal system to the beach and businesses, here is a non-extensive overview of what the coronavirus pandemic has shut down in Belgium, as the number of confirmed infections neared 1,500.

    Law and order slowdown

    After initially issuing guidelines that saw courts and tribunals across the country take differing measures, the College of Courts and Tribunals imposed on all legal instances in Belgium to only attend to “urgent” cases.

    Legal activities have slowed down significantly or have been completely halted in the federal parliament, the Senate, announcing the suspension of all plenaries and committee meetings as well as visits, “until further notice.” The lower chamber (La Chambre or De Kamer), said it would only treat “priority” texts.

    At a regional level, the Flemish parliament called off all committee meetings until the start of the Easter holidays on 3 April and said that plenary sessions would focus “entirely on the corona crisis,” while its Walloon counterpart said that a “limited number of agents” would keep parliamentary activities going in compliance with public health recommendations.

    In Brussels, the regional parliament has cancelled all commission hearings except those of the health commission until further notice. Hearings on “urgent” matters were also maintained. The Francophone parliament said that it would postpone all “non-urgent” meetings and work in a reduced capacity.

    All parliaments have cancelled visits and events.

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    Banks, shops and restaurants

    Banks will only receive customer through appointments, bank federation Febelfin announced on Tuesday, all the while urging customers to use online services as much as possible and only book an appointment for “extremely urgent” reasons.

    Several retailers have announced store closures since the start of the week, including electronics shops MediaMark, Vanden Borre, Fnac or retailers IKEA, H&M and Promod.

    A number of other fashion retailers such as Delvaux, Dandoy, Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch or Jules also announced closures, a retail workers union announced in regular Facebook updates.

    After Exki announced it was closing down its shops, Quick and Burger King announced they would also be shutting their fast-food venues as well as their drive-ins.

    Later on Wednesday, McDonald’s also announced it was “temporarily” shutting down all of its 87 shops in Belgium.

    From Wednesday noon, all non-essential shops were ordered to shut down by the government, in a measure which spared bookshops and newsstands.

    The beach, camps, sports and concerts

    The government of West Flanders on Tuesday asked tourists and non-permanent residents to keep away from the Belgian coast.

    “We saw people walking in groups and lining up for ice cream,” Governor Carl Decaluwé said. “There were too many people huddled together, others walked around as if nothing was wrong —it was just too dangerous.”

    The Eurovision Song Contest said it would cancel its 2020 edition due to the coronavirus pandemic, the event’s organiser announced on Wednesday.

    The Netherlands was set to be the host for the latest edition of one the most-watched televised events in Europe, which saw 150 million viewers tune in in 2019.

    Flanders scrapped all youth and holiday camp activities set to take place during the Easter holidays, with the Flemish Youth Ministry asking parents to only ask for partial or no reimbursement of fees in support of organisers.

    The Dutch-speaking region also cancelled the 2020 edition of the Tour of Flanders biking race, which was scheduled for 5 April.

    Flights grounded, factories shut down production

    On Tuesday, Brussels Airlines said it would ground all flights from 21 March and until 19 April. Following the announcement, the carrier asked for €200 million in government aid.

    Citing the “unprecedented proportions” of the aviation crisis triggered by coronavirus pandemic, Air Antwerp followed suit on Wednesday announcing the suspension of all flights from 22 March and until 10 April.

    On Wednesday, the Ryanair Group said that it expected to ground “most if not all” flights from 24 March at midnight, citing “huge disruption caused by government restrictions” across Europe.

    A host of automakers said they would shut down production in their European factories, including Audi, BMW, Toyota and luxury carmaker Ducati or Porsche.

    Volvo also said it would close down its production Ghent, a site which the company had earlier picked to be its main electric-vehicle battery production hub.

    ArcelorMittal, the largest steelmaker outside of China, also announced on Wednesday that it was halting all activities in its European plants, disrupting previously announced plans for ramped up production.

    Belgium agrees to EU border shutdown

    After the beach town of De Panne said it was temporarily sealing its border with France to stem a flow of citizens from its southern neighbour from coming to stock up across the border, Belgium’s federal government endorsed a measure aiming to reinstate free circulation within the Schengen Zone.

    The measure, set to last 30 days initially, was endorsed by EU27 leaders on Tuesday and will see each member state take steps towards implementation, the EU Commission said.

    Gabriela Galindo
    The Brussels Times