Today is the International Day of Happiness, and the news is that Belgium is at Number 18 in the Top Twenty of nations worldwide in terms of the happiness of its people.
It might seem unlikely to celebrate happiness while the country is in the grip of a worldwide pandemic that promises to get worse before it gets better, but just for that reason, we’ve gathered together a number of reasons to be cheerful in the face of the infection known as the new coronavirus (Covid-19).
• Students of law at the Free University of Brussels (VUB), members of the Brussels Law School Consultancy, have volunteered to give legal advice on the coronavirus pandemic to businesses, other students and members of the public in the coming weeks. The advice is entirely free and will mainly be delivered online, said the association’s vice-president Christophe Janssens. Get in touch via the group’s website.
• The documentary film festival Docville 2020, due to take place in Leuven from March 25, will go ahead online, organisers said. The festival itself has been postponed until September, and refunds promised, but in the meantime a reduced programme will be available via the streaming platform dalton.be. Tickets cost €4 per film.
• As a means of softening the blow of an overall shutdown of non-essential retail outlets, florist Johan Du Bois in Dilbeek set out a self-service flower stand in front of his closed shop, inviting customers to take a bunch of flowers and leave the correct price. To his surprise and delight, they did just that – all of his bunches of flowers were bought and paid for, he told Het Laatste Nieuws.
• Supermarket chain Colruyt has announced it will begin taking grocery orders from staff at two hospitals – Leuven university hospital and Brugmann university hospital in Brussels – and delivering them to the customers’ workplace. The decision comes after a cry for help from front-line medical workers who found themselves faced with empty shelves when they could make it to the supermarket, thanks to the panic-buying of others. The plan also covers Colruyt subsidiaries OKay, Bio-Planet and Cru.
• Prisoners in Belgium’s prisons are undergoing speed-training in the use of sewing machines so as to be able to manufacture face-masks for those who need them most: medical and other hospital staff and others who come face to face with infected people. Prison authorities have material to make 11,000 masks, and are now seeking machines for the volunteers in the prisons. “Who has a few semi-industrial sewing machines on 220 volts they can lend or rent to us?” asked spokesperson Kathleen Van De Vijver. Contact her by email.
• Breweries Palm and Haacht have decided to suspend the rents payable on premises they own and rent to bar managers in the light of the forced closure of all bar and restaurant premises until April 3 at the earliest. Palm has 110 premises rented out, and the company fears unless steps are taken, many of the tenant businesses could go bankrupt as a result of the shutdown.
• Finally, one man’s bad news is good news for millions. The writer George R.R. Martin is, like many of his compatriots, in lockdown in the US. He is using the time gainfully, by finishing the sixth book of his Song of Ice and Fire series, better known to the wider world as the Game of Thrones series. The latest volume, The Winds of Winter, will be followed by the seventh, which Martin, aged 71, swears will be the last.