Tomorrow, Belgium's Consultative Committee will discuss several scenarios detailing if and how non-essential shops can open again.
In principle, non-essential shops will remain closed until 13 December, as was initially announced along with the other lockdown coronavirus restrictions at the end of October.
An evaluation of the measure was planned before the start of December, however, and the different sector federations are asking the government to be allowed to reopen sooner rather than later.
Minister for the Self-Employed, David Clarinval, has already stated that reopening the shops should be "seriously" considered during the Consultative Committee on Friday, and that it should happen "as soon as possible." These scenarios will likely be on the table.
1. Reopening all stores, as normal as possible
One option would be reopening all non-essential shops, like before the lockdown, with everyone wearing face masks and keeping the necessary social distance, but without any other restrictions.
This scenario is the case in France from Saturday, President Emmanuel Macron announced earlier this week, with shops allowed to stay open until 9:00 PM.
A similar scenario is not likely in Belgium, however, according to some politicians. "Much worse than practising patience right now is having another relapse afterwards," Flemish Economy Minister Hilde Crevits said on Flemish radio.
2. Reopening all stores, but with strict measures
Another possible option would be to reopen all non-essential stores, but under strict measures. "Feasible measures" are a workable possibility, even if they are strict, according to the Neutral Syndicate for the Self-employed (NSZ).
Specific rules could vary depending on the type of store, said the NSZ, referring a limited time frame, a maximum number of people allowed in a store at the same time, or only shopping in pairs.
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"If it remains doable, we believe that consumers will be happy to take the rules on board," NSZ chair Christine Mattheeuws told Het Nieuwsblad.
Shops could reopen as soon as Tuesday 1 December, according to Mattheeuws. "This will give local authorities, the police and security officers time to take extra measures to ensure that everything runs safely in busy areas," she said.
"Additionally, reopening on a Tuesday will ensure a better spread than during the weekend," Mattheeuws said.
3. Reopening all stores, but only by appointment
The option to allow shops to reopen, but only receive customers by appointment has been called "the bare minimum" that should be announced on Friday, by Danny Van Assche of entrepreneurs’ organisation Unizo.
"In theory, it does not sound bad and many people say that it is better than nothing, but most traders are not in favour of it," Mattheeuws said. "They do not believe that shoppers will want to make an appointment as they would feel obliged to buy something."
While Unizo stresses the importance of avoiding long lines in front of stores, trade federation Comeos stated that shopping by appointment is not a solution.
"It may be feasible in a bed shop, for example, but it is a lot more difficult in a clothing or shoe store," the organisation said.
4. Stores remain closed until 13 December
This option is the one that was initially announced, when Belgium went back into lockdown at the end of October, shutting the stores until 13 December.
According to the NSZ, this would be a worst-case scenario. "It would be a complete disaster for all traders," said Mattheeuws. "We are already dealing with traders who are unable to pay their bills."
"Suppliers no longer want to deliver if the invoices are not paid. Then, we not only risk bankruptcies, but also a spring with empty shops," she said. "We cannot afford that, it is five minutes past midnight."
Additionally, the shops in most of Belgium's neighbouring countries remained open, or will reopen soon. Minister Clarinval already advocated a reopening of the stores, as Belgians will go shopping abroad if they cannot do it in their own country.
Once France opens its stores this weekend, Belgium will be "an island of closed shops" among its neighbours, according to Comeos.
"Then, everyone will be doing their Christmas shopping abroad. We are already seeing a 75% increase in purchases in shops just across the border in Luxembourg," the organisation stated. "Why shouldn't we be able to open our shops in a perfectly safe way?"
The Brussels Times