The Belgian government has commissioned a study to assess the impact that reopening hairdressers and other so-called contact professions could have on the spread of the coronavirus.
Experts have been tasked to prepare a report in time for the upcoming Consultative Committee, at which Belgian leaders are set to review the coronavirus figures.
The news comes amid mounting cries for help from representatives of the sector and comes after hairdressers at the weekend gave haircuts on the sidewalk, in an eye-catching protest stunt aiming to draw attention to their struggle.
Pressure on government officials spiked further after the suicide of a 24-year-old hairdresser who had recently opened her salon in Liège and which she was forced to close down due to the coronavirus crisis, according to RTBF.
In response to the growing calls to reopen, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke and Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden met with representatives of the sector, and gave the go-ahead to the study.
“I am delighted to hear a study is coming,” David Clarinval, federal minister for SMEs and the self-employed, told De Morgen.
“It is good that we also have objective data for our country,” he added, citing similar studies on the coronavirus spread in professions like hair, beauty and nail salons or tattoo parlours carried out in France and the United States.
Unizo, a union for the SMEs and entrepreneurs, welcomed the study, saying it was an “important signal” to independent business owners in Belgium.
“Hairdressers are open in all neighbouring countries, beauticians too, they are only closed in Germany, why should we be left behind?” Unizo representative Danny Van Assche said. “It is good that this is now on the table.”
Biostatistician Geert Molenberghs said that, while the risks linked to contact professions was comparatively lower than restaurants, the choice of allowing them to reopen was still an acceptance of some degree of risk.
“You are indoors for a longer period of time and, by definition, you cannot keep your distance,” he said. “Even with face masks, the risk is not zero.”
But even as Unizo and members of the Francophone PS and MR parties push for a reopening, Vandenbroucke has opted to err on the side of caution, noting that any decision will depend on what the study finds.