'Contradictory': New face mask rules for events criticised

'Contradictory': New face mask rules for events criticised
Credit: Pexels/Michael Discenza

The face mask policy that will come into force when Belgium moves into 'code orange' on the barometer on Friday has already drawn much criticism, as the new rules seemingly contain a number of discrepancies and contradictions.

From 18 February, masks will still be mandatory in cinemas or when seated at events but not when standing up or when dancing in a nightclub – rules which have provoked strong reactions, particularly in the culture and events sector.

"The decision to keep the face mask on while seated for non-dynamic events is difficult to understand" considering a mask is no longer required when dancing, said the Event Confederation in a press release after the Consultative Committee on Friday.

For Jan Van Esbroeck, CEO of the Sportpaleis, there is "no logic in the face mask rules at events," he told VRT. "It is very strange. You would expect just the opposite. I think the consequence is that everyone at a seated event will stand up and take off their masks."

'Would expect the opposite'

On Twitter, Corona Commissioner Pedro Facon explained that the Consultative Committee's reasoning was based on "practical grounds," as "during an activity such as dancing, the face mask cannot be worn correctly or safely; in seated activity, it can."

During a press briefing, virologist Steven Van Gucht acknowledged the apparently contradictory rule: "virologically speaking you would indeed expect the opposite." Yet he went on to say that in practical terms, "nightclubs and parties are just not compatible with face masks." Van Gucht doubted whether anyone would really comply with rules to wear masks when dancing anyway.

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He stressed the importance of good ventilation at venues and events, as specified in the barometer and emphasised that Belgium is currently still in a transitional phase: "There is still a lot of virus circulation, more so than in the fourth wave, so it definitely makes sense to try to guarantee safety as much as possible."

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo recommended wearing masks wherever practical: "Nightlife and face masks do not go together very well. But watching a movie with a mask on, that is not too difficult," he explained.

Some activities not possible with mask

Interior Affairs Minister Annelies Verlinden agreed: "Some activities you cannot do with a face mask on: eating, drinking, and dancing. It does not make much sense to open a nightclub and ask people to wear a face mask. That's why it can be done there without."

Like Verlinden, Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon stressed that these rules are part of a temporary transitional phase, and that a lot more will be possible once the country moves into 'code yellow' – hopefully by mid-March.

“It is not total freedom. There are still measures, and if we follow them properly we can move to the next stage as quickly as possible: code yellow," he said. "That is almost back to normal."

Van Gucht also said that, "if we are lucky," code yellow will be in sight within a few weeks. "Then masks will no longer be needed in the cinema or at a theatre performance. But how quickly that will happen also depends on what we do now in code orange."

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