A Flemish mayor's decision to impose the use of face masks in supermarkets has been overturned just as the measure was set to come into force on Wednesday.
Mayor Jan Vermeulen of Deinze, a city in the province of East Flanders, said the measure will be revoked after Federal Interior Minister Pieter De Crem said the mayor did not have authority on regulations on the use of face masks in public.
Vermeulen on Tuesday had published a decree ordering the use of face masks in Deinze's 17 grocery stores from 1 July, in an effort to curb a spike in new coronavirus infections.
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"The reason for this strict measure is that, in recent weeks, we have seen an increase in the number of new infections of Covid-19 in Deinze," Vermeulen said. "Additionally, we have noticed that supermarkets are getting busier and busier and that face masks are worn much less than a few weeks ago."
But De Crem hit back at the mayor's move, saying that coronavirus regulations had become the competency of the federal government since it took over the management of the crisis in March.
The Governor of East Flanders, Didier Detollenaere, confirmed in a radio interview that the decision was not for local authorities to make.
"We are in a federal [management] phase (...) to guarantee uniformity, this is not possible. We are going to overturn the mayor's decision," Detollenaere, Het Nieuwsblad reports.
As it moved to further relax coronavirus regulations Belgium's National Security Council (NSC) stopped short of making the use of face masks mandatory, choosing instead to "highly recommend" their use in public indoor places.
The NSC's decision clashed with the advice of top Belgian virologist, including Erike Vlieghe, chair of the GEES group of experts advising the government on how to lift the lockdown, who said Belgium should promote face mask use by the wider public.
Emmanuel André, who delivered Belgium's daily coronavirus updates, also took a swipe at the NSC's decision on Twitter, saying that the use of face masks was "not a political debate," but "an absolute necessity."
The Brussels Times