The number of cars on the roads in Belgium was almost 50% lower on Monday 23 March than it was two weeks earlier on 9 March, before strict new rules came into force.
The figures were reported by the Flemish public broadcaster VRT and its traffic department Be-Mobile.
Pubs and restaurants were closed on 13 March, and people ordered to stay home wherever possible other than for essential purposes, including going to work.
On Monday 16 March, the first working day after the closures, car traffic was down by 20%, Be-Mobile said. The changes only apply to private cars; lorry traffic remains virtually unchanged. In fact, on Monday 16 the number of lorries was up by 2-3%.
The panic-buying by many shoppers in the early days is the likely explanation for that increase, as supermarkets rushed to refill shelves plundered by shoppers against the advice of business and government.
In the following week, more and more commuters decided or were ordered by their employers to work from home, and car traffic fell further. It is to be expected the trend will continue this coming Monday, especially if, as expected, today’s National Security Council amends some of the rules in force, such as the professions that are considered essential.
Now, some six in ten businesses have introduced teleworking, four times as many as before the virus outbreak, when the possibility was only open to some, and only for part of the working week.
According to human resources consultants Acerta, the crisis may have broken down the last psychological barrier to companies allowing staff to work from home. Now that employers have been forced to allow the practice, and they have seen the effects in practice, the consultancy expects teleworking to become more common even when the emergency is over.