A Belgian retail chain has confirmed that one of their supermarket employees in Brussels died in their sleep after contracting the new coronavirus (Covid-19).
"We have unfortunately received the sad confirmation that a colleague from our Colruyt shop in Forest died in his sleep," the group said in an email statement.
The supermarket employee, identified in media reports as 32-year-old Mohamed, died after testing positive for the virus, a spokesperson for the Colruyt group said.
"We are deeply affected by the death of Mohamed and we extend our thoughts to his family and friends," spokesperson Nathalie Roisin said in a phone statement.
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"He tested positive and had been put in quarantine at home," she said, noting that the company nevertheless was not in a position to say whether his death was "directly linked to Covid-19."
News of the employee's death comes as supermarket staff in major chains such as Delhaize and Carrefour shut down stops to demand increased protection and compensation for carrying out front-line jobs as costumers flocked to stores to stockpile.
"Our greatest fear comes true," De Morgen cited an anonymous supermarket employee as saying. "It is starting to dawn on us how serious [Covid-19] can be, that we are absolutely not safe at work and that this can take months."
"Many are beginning to wonder why they keep doing this for the same wages — after all, the job is no longer the same," the employee wrote on Facebook.
Last week, unionized Delhaize employees shut down several shops as they pushed management to provide them with gloves, face masks and compensation beyond in-store vouchers with a use-by date.
Roisin could not confirm reports that management at the shop where the deceased employee worked at discouraged the use of masks.
Since lockdown measures were implemented in Belgium to contain the virus' spread, Colruyt's stance has "always been to allow its 16,000 store employees to wear protective mouth masks if they wish to do so," Roisin said.
Initially, the company did not provide employees with mouth masks, with Roisin citing concerns of straining already depleted national and international supply chains.
"We are now providing [store employees] with protective mouth masks and those who wish to use them can," she said, adding that the mouth masks came from the company's own stock used in their meatpacking and production ateliers.
Roisin declined to confirm whether other employees of the Colruyt Group had tested positive for the new coronavirus.
"Our priority now is to respond to the needs of collaborators concerned [by the death]," the group wrote in the emailed statement, adding that staff from the Forest shop were being offered psychological support and that guidelines were "continuously" updated following official recommendations.
The Brussels Times