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Ombudsman urges PM to make face masks mandatory in airports

© Belga/ERIC LALMAND

Belgium’s National Security Council (NSC) must clearly state that the use of face masks is obligatory in all Belgian airports, the federal ombudsman for aviation said.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès ahead of an NSC meeting, Federal Aviation Ombudsman Philippe Touwaide urged leaders to provide clarity on the rules to avoid airports deferring responsibility to commercial airlines.

“I would like to advise you (…) to make wearing a face mask mandatory in all Belgian airports in the NSC meeting of Wednesday, 6 May,” Touwaide wrote, RTBF reports. “This is obvious and logical measure will help to limit the spread of the virus.”

In his letter, Touwaide takes aim at comments made by the CEO of Brussels Airport, Arnaud Feist, that the airport was not responsible for passengers’ use of face masks.

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“His defence is based on the fact that he does not manage transportation and that ‘his’ airport is not organized by a government agency. It is up to the airlines to impose, distribute and pay for face masks and not to him,” Touwaide wrote.

But Touwaide argues that the busiest airport in Belgium is in fact managed by the General Directorate of Aerial Transportation of the federal public transport services (FPS Transport and Mobility).

The rules issued by the NSC following a meeting on 30 April make it clear, according to the ombudsman, that Brussels Airport should enforce the use of face masks.

The NSC’s conclusions, published in a ministerial decree state that “all citizens over the age of 12 are required to cover their nose and mouth (…) upon entrance to (…) any means of transport organised by a public authority.”

Days after the decree was published, Charleroi Airport said it would make the use of face masks mandatory in its airport.

Agreeing with the airport’s CEO, the cabinet of the federal mobility minister, François Bellot, has reportedly said that airports should not be viewed as public transport and that such matters fall outside the remit of the ombudsman, according to Bruzz.

In his letter, Touwaide also pointed out that Brussels Airport was not currently enforcing any screening for arriving passengers, who he said were advised to quarantine for a fortnight but that no temperature or identity details were being collected by the airport.

“This measure is not effective, because once the passenger comes home there is no more control,” Touwaide wrote.

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times

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