Federal health minister Frank Vandenbroucke (sp.a) issued a plea to the public yesterday, in the lead-up to today’s last day of shopping before all non-essential retail outlets close until 13 December.
“Don’t do it unless it’s absolutely necessary,” he said., referring to the scenes yesterday as long queues formed outside shops that would close from Monday. Particularly affected were big-box stores like Ikea and Decathlon, but clothes shops, electrical goods shops and others were also affected.
The long lines and crowded streets, Vandenbroucke said, “are dangerous, and that’s exactly what we don’t want to see. And it doesn’t have to be this way.”
Shops selling food and essential items like personal care products will remain open, he said, as will DIY stores and garden centres.
“All stores will also have the possibility to order online and pick up purchases,” he added.
The rush to stock up before lockdown is a result of the delay between the announcement of the measures on Friday and the implementation from tomorrow.
Already on Friday, panic-buying of essential items started in the supermarkets, even though they will not be closing, and the prime minister himself had reassured the public that there was no need to hoard bottled water and toilet paper at home, as the shops would be restocked as normal.
The delay, Vandenbroucke said, was inevitable.
“We were working on the ministerial decree that lays down all the rules up until an hour ago,” he explained.
“That has to be well formulated, and it has to be published [in the Official Gazette], because there are penalties and fines for violations. We have to appeal a little to the goodwill of the people.”
Meanwhile, Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever (N-VA) came in for criticism for his decision to allow the routine Sunday opening in the city to go ahead at this time. In a message to the public, De Wever had called for caution.
“The higher authorities decided that the new rules will not take effect until Sunday evening. Just like in other cities, the shops in the tourist centre of the city are open on Sunday. The local police will be present en masse and will monitor compliance with the face mask obligation, the distancing rules and the ban on gatherings. In case of excessive crowds, immediate action will be taken,” he said.
One of he city’s doctors had a bolder message. Posting on Twitter, intensive care specialist Dr. Walter Verbrugge of the Antwerp university hospital showed x-ray photos of two sets of lungs, one healthy and the other infected with Covid-19.
“Shopping Sunday in Antwerp: How it started,” he labelled the first. And for the other: “How it ended.”