A new lockdown caused by the increase in coronavirus cases in Belgium would mean the end for 60,000 businesses, with the loss of some 300,000 jobs, according to Pieter Timmermans, managing director of the Federation of Belgian Enterprise (FEB).
Speaking on RTBF Radio, Timmermans explained that the figure represents 16% of Belgian businesses which were perfectly healthy before the arrival of Covid-19, but are now staring into the abyss.
Does the country have the ability to come through another lockdown, he was asked.
“No, we must avoid at all costs a second lockdown, a second confinement,” he said.
“A figure to illustrate this: 16% of businesses in good health before the Covid crisis, so about 60,000 businesses with 300,000 employees, were in good shape, no financial problems. Today, that 16% are in trouble and at risk of going bankrupt. If there is now a second lockdown, if only for 15 days, three weeks, a month or two months, it is the end of these businesses. And it would be an unprecedented economic disaster.”
Instead of arguing about which circumstances are to blame – whether bars or schools or young people’s parties – what is needed, he said, is a widespread change of attitude and behaviour.
“If we want to save the economy, and therefore save jobs and purchasing power, we have to play by the rules,” he said.
“Everyone is now talking at cross-purposes. We really need to fight this virus, and we are able to do it. We are still a rich country. We are a country with a high level of health care. We are capable of fighting this crisis, and the time to prove it is now.”
Elsewhere, the Belgian Luxembourg Council for Retail and Shopping Centres (BLSC), which represents more than 200 businesses in the retail and property sectors, has published an appeal for the public to go back to shopping in an “intelligent, safe and responsible” way.
The presence of the public in shopping centres and retail areas of down was hit hard by the coronavirus, even after the lockdown was lifted: 28% down in July compared to 2019; 11% down during the sales in August, then 15% down in September.
The sector recognises the growth of online shopping– the only possibility during lockdown – is a habit that has persisted.
“It is now up to us to continue to innovate, to surprise people and to offer them a pleasant shopping experience,” the letter says.