Belgium is dropping the general obligation to wear a face mask in healthcare institutions – such as in a hospital or the GP – as the different health ministers agreed on a new framework during the Interministerial Conference (IMC) on Public Health on Wednesday.
The ministers agreed on a plan with recommendations on three levels, depending on Covid-19 virus circulation.
- Level 1: the epidemiological situation is under control. No masks are considered necessary anywhere, although they remain recommended in patients presenting with symptoms of respiratory infection and in patients with immunity problems,
- Level 2: several viruses are circulating that can cause respiratory infections (such as Covid-19, influenza or RSV) and consequently increase the pressure on GPs and hospitals. Masks are recommended during contact between healthcare providers and patients, and contact between patients,
- Level 3: virus circulation is so high that masks are recommended for everyone in the healthcare sector.
Belgium is currently in level 2, meaning masks are recommended during all interactions between patients, or between patients and healthcare providers, stressed Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke. "However, healthcare institutions are free to apply their own rules. If they deem a face mask requirement necessary, they may still impose it."
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While it is no longer an obligation, the IMC still recommends that people visiting patients also wear a mask. "A recommendation that we know hospitals like," Vandenbroucke said, adding that he has been in intensive consultations with the healthcare sector in recent weeks.
"The recommendations are based on scientific advice and broad consultations with various professional organisations. This way, we are responding to the industry's call for greater clarity."
The obligation to wear a face mask in healthcare facilities was one of the last 'strict' measures against Covid-19 still in force: since 4 May 2020, wearing a mask has been mandatory in hospitals, regardless of the department.