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Letter from... Brussels


We will be providing regular reports regarding Coronavirus from our SEC Newgate colleagues around the world. Today we have the view from Brussels by Victoria Main, CEO, Cambre Associates.

Belgium has moved swiftly from ‘ceci n’est pas un virus’ to shutdown ‘lite’ as the spread of COVID-19 gathers pace. After 15 months of political hiatus, King Philippe last Monday installed an emergency government with special powers to tackle the coronavirus.

It took a while. But Belgians, known for their quirky sense of humour and cartoon characters such as Asterix and Tintin, now realise COVID-19 is no laughing matter. After many last week treated the edict to work from home as a licence to bask outside in the spring sunshine, the majority are now taking the new measures seriously. With the number of cases rising to 3,401, with 75 deaths, as of Monday morning, it’s no wonder.

Bars, cafés, restaurants and all but non-essential shops, such as supermarkets, grocery stores and pharmacies, are now closed. Only people living under the same roof plus one friend are allowed to venture out together.

Police with loud speakers are cruising the streets and even deploying drones to enforce social distancing. So far, we don’t have the fines or requirement for permits to leave home imposed elsewhere. The few joggers that I see on my early morning runs give one another a wide berth. (On the bright side, we’re all enjoying much cleaner air than our usual dose of diesel fumes.)

Harmonious co-existence has long been the norm in the capital of Europe. More than a third of residents are foreign, as Brussels is home to the European institutions and numerous industry associations, think-tanks, journalists and lobbyists.

Networking and intelligence-gathering are our bread and butter. With all events cancelled and staff at the institutions working from home like the rest of us, everyone has swiftly got to grips with life on-line. Members of the European Parliament will on Thursday vote by email for the first time ever. However, progress on a post-Brexit trade deal has slowed, with lead EU negotiator Michel Barnier afflicted by COVID-19 and UK counterpart David Frost in self-isolation. Officials are hitting the pause button on other trade talks.

Yet, some shows simply must go on. At Cambre, we had our first virtual drinks session on Friday, with a spring theme. As we hunker down for an unseasonal hibernation, we’ll be enjoying many more…