Today the new rule on the compulsory wearing of a face mask in public places comes into force, and some clarifications on the application of the rule have been emerging.
The complete list of places where the mask is required has been published in the government’s official gazette:
“Everyone over the age of 12 is obliged to cover their mouth and nose with a mask or any other fabric alternative in the following establishments: shops and shopping centres; cinemas; concert or conference halls; auditoria; places of worship; museums; libraries; casinos and gambling halls; and the buildings of the justice system (the parts accessible to the public).”
To the published list should be added the public areas of bank branches, whether the bank itself or a separate indoor space for the use of cash machines.
The question of whether a mask must be worn in the cinema for the duration of the film or only on entering has been answered: the mask must be worn at all times, except when eating or drinking, according to the office of home affairs minister Pieter De Crem (CD&V).
The cinemas were worried that the obligation to wear a mask would affect sales from their concession stands, which are a major source of the cinemas’ income. That may still be the case, but the proposal from the cinema owners to allow patrons to remove their masks once inside stood no chance of being accepted.
The fine for refusing to wear a mask in the situations where one is required amounts to €250 – the same as for all other lockdown offences since the beginning of the crisis.
A more problematic issue is likely to be the fine for businesses that fail to enforce the rule. That amounts to €750, rising to €4,000 for repeat offenders, with the option of a prison sentence of between eight days and three months.
That penalty is likely to be inflicted only in cases where a business owner deliberately flouts the law – for example a casino that allows patrons to play poker in a private room without masks – rather than ordinary circumstances where a supermarket manager is unable to force a customer to comply.
The main supermarkets have already let it be known that they have no intention of putting their staff at risk by attempting to force recalcitrant customers to obey the law. That, they have made it clear, is a job for the police.
The trade federation Comeos points out that shop staff, like any other member of the public, do not have the right to physically prevent anyone from entering the shop, or to bodily remove a person who refuses to obey the law. Their only option, the sector says, is to call the police. With that in mind, they are now appealing to the sense of civic responsibility of the public.
Finally, some supermarkets have said they will make masks available to shoppers who have left home without one. Aldi will give away masks free today only; Carrefour this weekend only; Colruyt during the first week. Delhaize is offering no free masks, but masks will be on sale, as is the case for the other stores.