Retailers in Belgium's neighbouring countries are getting the prospect of the ease of Covid restrictions: in the Netherlands, stores are allowed to welcome customers by appointment from 3 March. In the UK, all stores may be able to reopen normally on 12 April.
Six customers per hour
The Netherlands is announcing some easing of the current lockdown restrictions, even for retailers. As of 3 March, stores are allowed to welcome customers by appointment, but only under strict conditions. Shoppers must book at least four hours in advance, and no more than two customers can be on the same floor at the same time. In total, a maximum of six customers per hour is allowed, which would therefore allow a minimum of ten minutes per customer.
According to his press conference, Prime Minister Rutte wants to give retailers "more breathing space" through this easement. At the moment, all non-essential stores in the Netherlands are obliged to close, only click and collect at the point of sale is allowed. However, the Prime Minister says he realises that shopping by appointment for large retailers and chains "offers little relief". Negotiations on additional support will therefore be conducted accordingly.
"No help at all"
The retail companies and industry organisations are indeed not very enthusiastic about the new measure. Hema let Dutch newspaper AD know that this limited measure, letting customers shop by appointment, won't be any help. The department store chain had previously been enthusiastic about the idea, assuming that it would involve one customer per 20 square metres. Despite the "setback", the chain will offer the service.
Interest group INretail strongly opposes the measure and asks for the stores to reopen as usual. "This simply does not make sense for large companies. They might as well stay closed," says director Jan Meerman. The trade union is talking to the relevant minister about an alternative for larger stores and chains, such as garden centres and furniture businesses. They are mainly referring to Belgium as an argument for a complete reopening.
12 April day of salvation?
Meanwhile, the Brits are given concrete prospects of such a full reopening. They were even given a date. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has proposed a four-step roadmap towards a complete lifting of the lockdown restrictions, at least in England. The deadline for complete freedom is set for 21 June. Since the UK already started vaccinating in December, the region has taken a headstart.
In the second phase, all stores would also be allowed to reopen: from 12 April onwards, non-essential retailers, outdoor hospitality businesses, hairdressers and gyms should be able to resume their activities. Of course, the ease of lockdown restrictions and dates are still subject to change: vaccinations, infection rates and any new coronavirus variant must be evaluated positively before entering a new phase.