Store on Dutch-Belgian Border Half-Closed Amid Outbreak

BAARLE-NASSAU, Netherlands (CN) – Differences in countries’ Covid-19 response measures mean that in one shop on the border between the Netherlands and Belgium, you can buy baby clothes but not men’s pajamas.

Staff at the Zeeman in Baarle-Nassau have used caution tape to separate the parts of their store that fall on the Belgian side of the border and those on the Dutch side.

A Zeeman clothing store in Delft, the Netherlands. (CNS Photo/Molly Quell)

“It is a creative solution for a crazy situation,” a spokesperson for the discount retailer said. “Fortunately, most of the necessary goods are located on the Dutch side.”

Normally, both countries share an open border as members of the Schengen Area, the European agreement that allows free movement of people and goods between countries. However, measures taken to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus known as Covid-19 have led to some border closures.

The two countries have implemented different restrictions in response to the global pandemic. In Belgium, where the measures are more restrictive, all nonessential businesses are shut and travel outside the home is limited only to trips to the grocery store.

Only a few feet away, however, the Dutch are required to keep a 1.5-meter (5 feet) distance from other people in public and gatherings of three or more people are banned, but more stores remain open.

Zeeman, a chain retailer with more than 1,300 locations around Europe, could have declined to abide by the stricter Belgian measures. The entrance to the shop is located in the Netherlands and therefore falls under Dutch law.

However, the retailer said it is closing parts of the store “to show our solidarity with our Belgian neighbors.” The company was asked by Belgian authorities to close the store when the more restrictive measures went into place on March 17.

A complicated border between the two nations – the result of hundreds of years of land swaps, medieval treaties, sales and wars – has left the area with enclaves of Belgium surrounded entirely by the Netherlands and vice versa. There are even counter-enclaves, where Dutch land is totally surrounded by Belgian territory, which is in turn surrounded by the Netherlands.

As of Wednesday morning, there are more than 438,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 worldwide and 19,000 people have died, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker. Nearly 300 have died from the virus in the Netherlands and Belgium has almost 200 victims.

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