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    Prisoners in Belgium have sewn over 60,000 face masks

    Belgian inmates are producing a minimum of 3,000 washable face masks for use within prisons as well as to supply federal ministries and other government agencies. © Belga

    Inmates in Belgian prisons have already sewn tens of thousands of face masks for use within the prisons as well as for other government agencies.

    Since late March, inmates across Belgium have already sewn a total of 61,000 face masks, a spokesperson for the penitentiary administration confirmed in a phone interview.

    Amid the current pandemic, the prison administration shifted the jobs of inmates already working in four existing sewing ateliers in prisons to the production of washable face masks.

    Spokesperson Kathleen Van De Vijver said that around 80 inmates working in a total of thirteen ateliers across the country were producing a minimum of 3,000 masks each day.

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    “We have delivered orders to some external organisations and we expect that, by next week, we will have finished production for all inmates and prison staff,” she said.

    “At the moment, not every inmate has a mask, but those working with food inside the prisons, for example, have been given one,” Van De Vijver said.

    According to Van De Vijver, Flanders’ regional childcare agency, Kind en Gezin, the federal finance and justice ministries and immigration detention centres were among the agencies that they were supplying.

    In addition to the four sewing ateliers in prisons in Wallonia (Mons), Brussels (Forest) and Flanders (Oudenaarde and Brugge) nine temporary sowing ateliers were set up to boost output.

    Weeks into the start of production in early April, the penitentiary administration reported that prisoners had already made nearly 30,000 face masks.

    “Prisoners are paid €0.62 apiece and there is a waiting list for those who want to work making face masks,” she said.

    Van De Vijver could not provide information regarding the number of daily working hours currently being put in by each inmate, saying that, depending on each facility, it could range from four to seven hours a day.

    “For the new temporary ateliers that were set up, we had a professional come to teach the technique to the inmates,” she added.

    According to reports, 17 inmates screened for the new coronavirus (Covid-19) have tested positive and 25 others are in isolation after showing symptoms, down from 50 a month ago.

    Additionally, an infection has also been detected among 62 prison staff, and despite 28 currently being on sick leave, Van De Vijver told the media that there were currently no staff shortages in prison.

    Gabriela Galindo
    The Brussels Times