The 15 million face masks ordered by the federal government and set to be distributed from next week do not meet official safety standards and must not be given to the public, textile federations said.
The defence ministry, tasked with receiving and distributing the massive order, said that the masks had passed numerous safety tests and stressed that the washing guidelines were recommendations, not obligations.
The news is the latest stumbling block in the government’s attempts to complete the massive face mask order since the National Security Council first pledged to give one face mask to every resident on 25 April.
The larger part of the 18-million-mask order also arrives several weeks after local officials moved to equip residents by placing mask orders of their own or turning to citizen volunteers to produce them.
The defence ministry also said that the face masks, produced by Avrox in Luxembourg, were lined with an antibacterial layer that ensured their efficacy.
“The washing recommendations (…) were laid out mainly for the homemade masks, to make sure they were properly cleaned, but they are recommendations, not obligations,” Colonel Geert Bouchez told Le Soir.
“I can assure you that, even washed 30 times like asked, these masks will keep their filtration properties. They can be washed by hand and used in complete safety,” he added.
But the newspaper points out that the ministry turned down one potential mask maker because their product could not be washed at 60ºC.
Several textile groups pointed out that washing fabric masks at 60ºC is included in a document outlining the minimal standards for homemade face masks, published by the Belgian Bureau for Standardisation with support from federal health agency Sciensano.
“These face masks are a danger to public health and must not be distributed [to the public], in our view,” Creamoda said in a press release. “Since the masks do not meet the sanitary and technical standards, they must be returned to the sender.”
A total of 18 million face masks were ordered by the government, 3 million of which were made by Ghent-based company Tweeds and Cotton, which arrived two weeks ago.