Announcing its new measures aimed at relaxing the current lockdown, the national security council on Friday announced that children over 12 years of age would be required to wear a face mask in schools after the restart on May 18, while passengers on public transport would be required to do the same from May 4.
The government, prime minister Sophie Wilmès promised, would make sure every person in the country would be provided with at least one reusable fabric mask.
Not possible, says Koen Geens. As well as being federal justice minister Geens has also been given the responsibility of overseeing the application of the measures aimed at opening up the economy.
Speaking on VTM news, Geens blamed the shortage of capacity among manufacturers, who are already being pushed to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line workers in hospitals, the emergency services and care homes.
“Manufacturing has not particularly focused on textile masks,” said Geens. “There are a number of companies, but not in those numbers.”
The federal government, he said, placed an order on Friday evening with two major textile manufacturers for 22 million mask filters, which would be distributed to the public between May 4 and 20, two per person.
The filters can be used with a textile mask – assuming members of the public are in possession of one.
Two companies have announced they will begin production of the masks themselves, but in that case only surgical masks and the higher quality FFP2 masks – both of which are reserved for front-line workers.
The government meanwhile published its requirements for masks destined for the public – the main condition being that they are reusable and washable – on Friday evening, after the national security council had agreed but before the announcement.
Orders should be submitted to Creamoda, the textile industry federation, from hospitals as well as cities and municipalities, who will be responsible for distribution of the masks.
According to industry spokesperson Jo Van Landeghem, the instruction is coming late in the day.
“Had we received the green light five weeks ago, then we would now be able to provide every inhabitant of the country with three masks. There were many companies standing ready to begin production here in Belgium and in their overseas facilities. But now Covid-19 has broken out there, too, and a lot of capacity has been lost.”
The masks in question, he explained, are reusable face masks based on the model of the surgical mask, which are worn for the protection of people in the wearer’s surroundings, but not the wearers themselves.
“They are community masks as used by people in Asia when they go outside with a cold and don’t want to infect other people,” Van Landeghem said. “They do offer limited protection, so that you don’t touch your nose or mouth with potentially contaminated hands.
The professionally made masks will also, he said, be more comfortable and fit better than the kind of home-made masks people are providing for themselves.
“The raw materials for the masks are there. When the crisis started, we started stocking up on as much as we could find.” The masks, he said, will cost in the region of five euros each.
“Cheap in comparison with disposable masks, as ours can be used 100 times over.”