Belgium candidate to manage EU’s emergency face mask stock
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    Belgium candidate to manage EU’s emergency face mask stock

    Boxes of masks from RescEU Reserve are unloaded in Milan, Italy, from a military airplane coming from Bucharest, credit: EU, 2020

    Belgium has put itself up as a candidate country to store and manage the strategic stock of face masks for all countries of the European Union.

    On 5 June, Belgium submitted its candidacy to manage the bloc’s emergency face mask reserves, part of its RescEU civil protection program, HLN reports.

    The candidacy was put forward by a task force led by Minister Philippe De Backer, which itself was created to manage Belgium’s response to the pandemic as well as steep shortages of protective equipment in the country.

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    The country’s strategic location and a decision to not ban the transport of personal protective equipment throughout the pandemic was reportedly seen positively by the EU, Le Soir reports.

    Belgium’s candidacy comes despite a string of controversies surrounding the managing of its own strategic stocks of face masks throughout the pandemic.

    Days after the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Belgian media reported that the federal health ministry destroyed 32 million face masks in its strategic stocks and chose not to replace them.

    Amid a series of mishaps and failures in the government’s attempts to replenish the stocks, which saw many local officials choose to place separate orders by themselves, Belgium now has a reserve of 80 million face masks in its federal reserves, according to HLN.

    The decision put the government in a tight spot, with officials struggling to secure sufficient face masks for the country amid dwindling global stocks as the pandemic accelerated.

    Belgium’s candidacy also comes reports that Belgium approved exports of protective medical equipment even as front-line workers in hospitals and care homes were grappling with shortages in the midst of the pandemic.

    Together with other candidate countries, Belgium will have to defend its candidacy mid-July and the EU is expected to select a managing country in August.

    Gabriela Galindo
    The Brussels Times