Using orange tape, pharmacist Saïd Bounouch (51) has marked out directions for his customers on the floor of his shop in the Helmet neighbourhood of Schaarbeek/Schaerbeek.
You walk into the shop to the right of a central shelving unit with products. The left-hand side of the shop is currently reserved for people who are leaving, “to avoid people have to pass one another.” Saïd spent a long time doubting whether he should install plexiglass on the counter, but it was going to be fitted later in the day (last Thursday, ed.). Each of the four counters in his pharmacy will be fitted with plexiglass.
It is to reduce the risk to myself and my employees. We don’t wear mouth masks; we don’t even have any. In any case, they are much more important for medical staff and people who are sick themselves. Our principle is that we are safe as long as customers keep a distance of at least one metre.
But you never know if people will start shouting or bend over the counter and spread micro drops containing the virus in that way.” On top of the counter, perfumed vaporizers spread a sweet-smelling scent throughout the day. “I have always had vaporizing essential oils in the shop,” Saïd says.
“They have curative and sometimes even antiviral properties. They help our immune systems. That’s why I have put the vaporizers on the countertop. They work like a kind of barrier against the virus.” After the government announced on 12 March that schools, cafés, and restaurants had to close, the pharmacy was besieged for a week.
“By people who were panicked. They mostly bought paracetamol and hand sanitizer, and often asked for mouth masks. They are the kind of people who stockpile toilet paper from the supermarket. I primarily try to reassure them. When they ask for mouth masks, I tell them that I don’t wear one either.”
Just like most of his colleagues, Saïd has now posted the announcement that there are no more mouth masks or hand sanitizer available.
“Repeating the same thing one hundred times per day is very tiring. Especially because customers can be quite insistent and ask when they will be available again, and we simply don’t know.” “We are cautious, but we try to keep things in perspective. If it was Ebola spreading like wildfire, I would be much more worried.
This is much less deadly, but also more infectious, so we simply need to maintain the required distance. If that could be guaranteed, I think the shops could have stayed open. I am concerned about all those small independent shopkeepers who will have a heavy price to pay.”