Coronavirus: why can newspaper stores remain open in Belgium?

Coronavirus: why can newspaper stores remain open in Belgium?
© Belga

Newspaper stands were among the shops that were allowed to remain open through the lockdown imposed Wednesday by the federal government.

Alongside with pharmacies, supermarkets and other food stores, newspaper shops, but not bookstores, were listed among the essential businesses exempted from a mandatory shut down.

“Newspaper shops have been recognised as public utility businesses and can, therefore, remain open,” Prodipresse, the Francophone business association for newspaper sellers, wrote in an online statement, noting that those who kept business running should stick to certain guidelines.

Ahead of the imposition of the measures on Wednesday noon, the association had asked for an exemption to be able to also remain open on the weekends, arguing that access to information remained vital in times of crisis.

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“Certain people are not familiar with the Internet and do not get their news online,” Prodipresse president Xavier Delville told La Dernière Heure. “Their only connection with current affairs is often a printed newspaper, we need to ensure they get it.”

But the exemption request was shot down by the government, with a spokesperson with the Federal Crisis Centre telling the outlet that newspaper sellers “do not fill a vital role and must shut down during weekends.”

In Gare Centrale, the manager of a Relay shop, a French chain selling newspapers, magazines and some food products described the situation as “catastrophic.”

“On a regular Friday, I have around 950 costumers, right now, it is 11:00 AM and I’ve barely had 50… it’s a catastrophe,” the shop’s manager, who did not want to be identified by name, said in a phone interview.

“There is no one inside the station, all the businesses are closed, there are no workers coming and going through the station… it’s deserted,” he added.

He said he used gloves and disinfectant as a precaution and that he would be soon installed an acrylic glass screen to install at the counter.

“I don’t think it would be worth it to open on the weekend, Monday we will open back up again and decide whether we will continue opening during the week,” he added.

Prodipresse said that newspaper shop owners were free to decide whether they remained open through the lockdown, currently set to be lifted on 3 April.

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times

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