Brussels considers mass purchase of masks for general public
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    Brussels considers mass purchase of masks for general public

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    Regional authorities in Brussels are considering centralising the purchase and distribution of face masks after several municipalities began recommending wearing them in public.

    As Belgium begins to plan the gradual lifting of the nationwide lockdown, at least eight mayors in Brussels have already said they are considering or going forward with plans to distribute face masks among their residents ahead of any regional decision.

    But diverging views from mayors or in capacities for response in each municipality have led to different rules or recommendations being issued to residents of closely-knit geographical areas. In an effort to ensure a more uniform response, a grouped purchase is reportedly being considered by Brussels’ regional government, Bruzz reports.

    A grouped purchase by the region would reportedly make up to 2 million masks available for the inhabitants of Brussels’ 19 municipalities at a cost of between €5 to €10 million, according to additional reports by La Dernière Heure.

    As it stands, the region is already supporting a local initiative involving around 2,000 volunteers who already made 100,000 masks in the space of two weeks, 80% of which went to health facilities.

    At A Local Level

    So far, several municipalities have said they will provide at least one reusable mask per inhabitant, with Etterbeek and Evere going one step forward and announcing they aim to make sure each resident has a minimum of two masks.

    But in some of the region’s most populous municipalities, some officials have chosen to prioritise distribution to at-risk groups or to front-line workers, such as in Anderlecht.

    Authorities in densely populated Schaerbeek or in Brussels 1000 have also given priority to the most vulnerable groups, while others have turned to local businesses for manufacturing solutions.

    The mayor of Sint-Agatha-Berchem placed an order for 20,000 face masks because they “couldn’t possibly wait around for a federal decision” in the face of rising contagion rates in local nursing homes.

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    At the same time, many are also relying on residents’ solidarity, working with volunteers to produce and distribute face masks among their populations, such as Woluwe-Saint-Lambert, Saint-Josse, Ganshoren or Auderghem.

    But as some mayors take the lead, others have argued against individual decisions at the local level and said the decision should be taken by regional leaders.

    The mayors of Uccle and Molenbeek both said that the region should be managing the distribution of face masks, but the latter said that they would look to the private market if no solution was found by the end of the week.

    Gabriela Galindo
    The Brussels Times