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Businesses in Brussels feel the effects of the lockdown

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Brussels, Belgium has been on lockdown since Saturday, because of what authorities call “a serious and imminent threat” of a terror attack. Public transit, schools, theaters, museums and shopping malls are all closed. It’s unclear when the threat might actually be lifted and what economic impact the shutdown will have on the city and the European Union. The BBC’s Alex Forsyth shares what it’s currently like in Brussels.

On what it looks like in Brussels:

It’s a very strange atmosphere here, really. Remember, this city is normally a working city, a really functional city, but right now it is really quiet. I think that’s the thing you notice most. I’m looking out my window now, just outside the European Commission, which is obviously one of the central buildings in this European bit of Brussels. You’d expect normally to see dozens of people making their way home, waiting for buses, that kind of thing. I can see, right now, one person on the street. I think a lot of people are heeding the advice of the authorities to stay in. Not everybody, of course some people are determined to go about their business as usual, but it’s definitely quieter and that means there’s a type of tension in the air, a really nervous atmosphere.

On what’s open:

Well there are still restaurants and cafes that are open, but they are very different. I went into one café, where there’s normally a huge queue where you have to pay to get your lunch and I got to the counter very quickly. Yesterday, I went to a really popular café for a coffee and it’s got these huge windows that look out onto the streets. Normally, you can’t get a table near the window, but I was able to sit right in one because there were less people around. At the same time, there are plenty of people that you speak to who say, “I am nervous, I am worried about this, but it’s not going to stop me from going to work. We don’t know how long this heightened security will last. If I stop living my life now, then it may be that that runs into days or maybe weeks or even longer.”

On what kind of damage this will do to the Belgian economy:

There are people that have suggested that the authorities are doing this as a show of strength to show that they can respond to these kinds of threats, that they’ve got the power to do so, and that they’re putting the safety of citizens first. But actually, you can’t imagine that authorities would be doing this unless they had genuine cause to believe there was a real threat. Because of the damage to the economy—shops, businesses, bars are closed. Brussels has a huge tourist economy as well…there may be people reconsidering trips for the weekend and even possibly further beyond, so the economic and reputational damage that this could do is significant. But it’s down to the individuals to make the choice about what they do with that information. There are some people that are saying, “look, I feel safer to stay at home.” There are others saying, “the only way that I can defeat this terror is to go out and carry out my business regardless,” and that to them is their way of standing up to the threat.

On the cat tweets:

Brussels has obviously been the focus of much intense police activity…There were a number of raids in the city last night and people on social media were tweeting movements of the authorities. Now, the police asked them not to for operational reasons i.e. don’t give too much away about what exactly we’re doing. Obviously they were hoping to make some arrests and do some searches of properties. Now, in response, Twitter did what Twitter does well. Instead of tweeting details about what the police were up to, people started tweeting pictures of cats, so this hashtag #BrusselsLockdown became taken over with images of cats. That is in a way, some small defiance saying “Look, you may have changed our city for the last few days, but you won’t change us permanently. We still have a sense of humor and we still prepare to put that out there.”


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