Regulations on the wearing of masks in schools have been relaxed in Wallonia and Flanders but not in the Brussels-Capital Region, education ministers confirmed on Tuesday.
The decision follows a consultation of education authorities and health experts and varies according to age group and region. Staff working in educational institutions in Wallonia, for instance, will now no longer have to wear masks when moving around the institutions.
But given the lower rate of vaccine uptake and the higher rate of coronavirus infections, measures were not relaxed in Brussels with the mask remaining compulsory for adults inside. Speaking to RTBF radio, Pierre Smeesters – head pediatrician at Queen Fabiola Children’s University Hospital – defended this decision, saying that the wearing of masks allows us to find the balance between “maximising teaching whilst minimising risk.”
However, some have voiced concerns that the enforcement of wearing the mask will provoke increased absence among pupils. A survey of 23,000 Belgians by Antwerp University revealed that over half of parents are against the mandatory wearing of masks in class.
The regulations now stipulate that primary school pupils in Flanders will not be required to wear masks, and secondary pupils can remove masks once seated. This will also be the case for pupils in Wallonia.
Yet masks remain mandatory when inside for both pupils and teachers in the Brussels-Capital Region. When outside, the same regional rules apply as to the public in general. For instance, pupils will still be required to wear masks outside if social distancing cannot be respected.
The consultation highlighted the importance of good ventilation in classrooms, staff rooms, and other enclosed areas. Health experts also stressed the need for a combination of measures to prevent the spread of the virus and called on all school staff to respect social distancing.
The Brussels Times